Part 1: Introduction

Trip Report & Photography by Bert Duplessis

High resolution photos available on Flickr!

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South Africa – Nov 2014

My Nov-Dec 2014 marathon Southern Africa inspection trip ended on 24 Dec 2014 when my Delta flight from ATL to IAH touched down right on schedule.  Kathy had to return to the USA about 10 days earlier.  Between us we stayed at and inspected different safari lodges, camps and hotels in 3 countries: South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Bert at Abu

Fish Eagle Safaris’ owner Bert Duplessis on an elephant at Abu Camp

There were many highlights which I will touch upon in more detail in the area trip reports to follow.  If I were given the opportunity to go back tomorrow and pick out just two or three places, it would have to be Seba & Abu in the Okavango Delta for a once-in-a-lifetime elephant experience and the most drop-dead gorgeous natural environment and the Savute Marsh right now for astonishingly good game-viewing.   I’d love to be able to go back and spend several days with guide ‘Magic Mike’ at Somalisa, stalking the perfect afternoon light and whatever it may shine upon.  Cheetahs would be nice, elephant would be great too and I’d even settle for a steenbok, just to find myself back in that time and place.   And yes I might want to add a few days at La Residence in Franschoek for the most blissful of sybaritic delights.  Fabulous food, some of the best wines you may ever enjoy, looking out over vineyards & mountains, being pampered every step of the way, pinching yourself every time you re-enter your room.  It doesn’t get old quickly at all.  In fact, La Residence has joined my very short list of ‘Groundhog Day’ places.  You know.  Those very special places you’d like to wake up in again and again and again…

Franschoek View

View from La Residence in Franschoek South Africa

Predictably this trip once again illustrated our long-held belief that Southern Africa is very worthwhile visiting in the ‘Green Season’ – roughly from December through the end of March, the height of summer.  This co-incides with the rainy season in the interior.  Cape Town of course has a Mediterranean climate with the three rainiest months being the winter months of June, July and August.  Weather was not an issue except that it was cooler than we had anticipated.  So be sure totake a fleece on every outing.  Our activities were not hampered by weather or rain, with the exception of one boat trip on the Chobe River which had to be abandoned due to lighting.  Not a good idea to be in an open aluminum ‘box’ on an stretch of open water…

Elephants at Somalisa

Herd of elephants at Somalisa Camp

Here and there I was hoping for better light for photography but cloudy weather does have its advantages too, extending the number of hours of photography, particularly in the early morning.  Under optimum full sunlight conditions, you’d have perhaps 2 hours of very good ‘golden’ light, but it is all over by 8:30A or so by which time it gets awfully bright with harsh shadows making photography all but impossible.  Not so when it is overcast, with the soft, even light enabling decent shots pretty much any time of the day.  Plus the fact that clouds always add atmosphere to sunset and sunrise shots, and those big, billowing white cumulus clouds can look pretty impressive as a backdrop to a landscape pic.


Green season sunsets are quite amazing. Somalisa Camp Hwange National Park Zimbabwe

A few practical things:

We flew from Houston to Johannesburg via Atlanta, on Delta.  As we’ve done the last few times, it was ‘economy comfort’ all the way.  The four extra inches of legroom – compared with regular coach – is a lifesaver as is the early boarding privileges.  No worries about finding overhead storage space for your carry-on luggage and being closer to the exit you can beat the crowd to the immigration desk.

Hyenas at Seba

Hyena family playing at Seba Camp Okavango Delta Botswana

Delta’s on-board service and amenities can best be described as mediocre to acceptable.  The food was edible but not much more than that and I thought the movie selection was particularly bad.  I had to resort to re-watching Australia (would have been nice to sing myself to Jo’burg…) and The Big Lebowski.  Plus one or two other movies which I won’t even mention by name for fear of inspiring someone else to try them.  I somehow found a few episodes of Game of Thrones and House of Cards which helped to while away the long, long hours.  As always, it was essential to have and use a good pair of noise-canceling headphones.

Cheetah Somalisa

Cheetah sighted on final game drive at Somalisa

At Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo Airport the immigration and customs formalities were handled promptly (although I have stood in a 20-minute+ line there before) and it was just a short walk to the Budget counter where we collected a Toyota Camry for the 40-minute drive to Pretoria.  Over the next few days we enjoyed a family reunion while we struggled to adjust to having abruptly skipped seven time zones.  It was not as warm as we had anticipated in Pretoria which translated into nice running weather.  We made full use of every opportunity to get a few miles under our belts, realizing that our exercise opportunities would be severely curtailed once on safari.

Next stop – Cape Town.

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Sweets in Franschoek

Dessert buffet at La Residence in Franschoek South Africa Safari