The Tundra Wilderness Tour is an included excursion for everyone in our group. We are picked up from the main entrance to the resort this morning for our 3.5 hour road trip into Denali National Park. This was originally an all-day excursion, however we now turn around at mile 43 near where the road crosses the Toklat River. Access to facilities and services in Denali remain altered due to the Pretty Rocks Landslide and the associated closure of the Park Road at Mile 43. Nonetheless, we have a successful excursion, seeing a good selection of wildlife along the shortened route, and the scenery is spectacular. Due to cloudy weather, Denali the mountain escapes us today.
Our guide tells us the slide area is sinking several inches each day due to permafrost thawing, so the Parks Service cannot keep up with hauling in all that gravel daily to keep the road open. Building a new road using a different route is not an option, since it would take years to build and it is likely to suffer from the same sinking problem. This is being caused by climate warming – average temperatures in Denali have risen 7ºF since 1950, and are rapidly increasing over the last few years.
February 20, 2014 – Thursday – The North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
We arrive in Honolulu harbour on time this morning. The early morning approach offers some superb views of Diamond Head and the south shore of Waikiki and Honolulu before we slip into our dock at Pier 2.
I am on an excursion today, our first of two days in Honolulu. The Explore and Taste Oahu’s North Shore tour is a 6.5 hour all day affair run by Roberts Hawaii, which visits the tranquil Byodu Temple after we travel over the H3 freeway through the Koolau Mountains to Kaneohe. The temple is quite beautiful and tranquil despite the groups from the numerous tour buses wandering the grounds.
We then stop at Chinaman’s Hat Rock, which is a rock sticking out of Kaneohe Bay. We drive by the Crouching Lion restaurant (now closed), which my friends and I stopped at for lunch the last time I visited Oahu. Our stop at Malaekahana State Recreation Area offers a great view of the ocean and a spectacular beach, not often visited by tourists or locals. (It looks like Malaekahana is now operating as a campground and retreat.) As we pass the Polynesian Cultural Center, our guide explains how the students study at the Brigham Young University and the adjacent Latter Day Saints temple in Laie, and also work at the Polynesian Cultural Center to pay for their education.
Our destination for lunch is just up the road: Fumis Kahuku Shrimp (Yelp reviews), where we have a pre-ordered lunch of shrimp, cod, or chicken. Most people order the shrimp, which is a large portion that comes in a Styrofoam plate along with some salad and rice and a soft drink. I find the Lemon Pepper Shrimp to be very tasty. There is a washbasin to get the grease off after the meal is finished. Shave Ice can be purchased for dessert, for those so inclined. This is very casual dining, but the food is very good! The James Campbell Wildlife Refuge is visible out by the coastline from here, and the shrimp ponds where the shrimp are raised are right beside this roadside stop.
We carry on to see Sunset Beach for a quick 10-minute stop, then pass by Tunnel Beach, both of which are world-famous for surfing (see banner image above). There are lots of surfers riding the waves.
Waimea Bay Beach Park is the next stop to see the turtles in the bay feeding on the algae. We spot one turtle. We then turn away from the coastline, driving through the little town of Haeliwa, and make our final stop at the Dole Plantation. This is the typical tourist trap if ever I saw one, but thankfully it is only a 20-minute stop before we carry on back to Honolulu over the H2 and H1 freeways, passing Pearl Harbor along the way.
The ship stays at the dock overnight, so we sleep aboard.
February 21, 2014 – Friday – Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
I don’t have any excursions booked for today, so I get up and have a leisurely breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room. I go ashore from Pier 2, walking a few blocks up South Street as far as the Mission Houses, the Kawaiaha’o Church, and then cross South King Street to see the State Capital and Iolani Palace.
I return to the Mission Houses for their tour of the inside, paying the $10 admission. It was very interesting hearing how the missionaries from Boston sailed around Cape Horn, to live and work in Hawaii. They supported themselves by printing and selling (or bartering) books and documents. They gave the Hawaiians their written language, introduced them to western music melody, and of course as missionaries, converted many of them to Christianity. I don’t have time to go into the Iolani Palace before it closes, so I return to the ship to freshen up and have some lunch.
I spend the afternoon aboard ship, swimming in the Ocean View Pool and generally relaxing. I am also taking advantage of the roaming package I purchased from Rogers, my cellular provider in Canada. The roaming package includes 15 minutes for voice calls, and also includes 200Mb of data. Since I have high speed LTE connectivity here, I can ignore the ship’s slow and expensive satellite Internet connection, and get a few things done online. I also call Harper’s Car Rentals to change my arrangements on the Big Island of Hawaii to a one-day rental with no drop off in Kona, which they happily do for me.
Our wakeup call is at 4:45am this morning, and we depart the Protea Hotel in St. Lucia by 5:15am for our safari to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. The box breakfast the hotel prepares for us is nothing short of dreadful. While we were on safari, I drink the juice and eat the fruit, but throw the rest of the box breakfast away in favour of granola bars I always bring with me when traveling.
This game reserve is the oldest proclaimed park in South Africa (1895), and is known for its rich wildlife. It is the only park in KwaZulu-Natal where all of the big five occur. This is the only time I see Black Rhinoceros (leaf browsers, pointed mouths, much smaller that the White). I manage to shoot some video of the Black Rhino despite them being so far away. We also see some White Rhinoceros (grass feeders, square mouth, twice as big as the Black), as well as Elephant, Lions, Zebras, Kudu and Giraffes. The safari ends around 9am – my last safari on this trip.
St. Lucia to Durban
We board our bus, and many of us sleep as we drive to Durban. Not long after we leave Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, we start seeing the Indian Ocean coastline. The communities north of Durban appear to be quite affluent, with lots of big houses situated either right on the coast, or having a water view. The bus pulls into Gateway Shopping Mall – a super-sized destination mall with four levels, a wave machine, skating, IMAX theatre, and a huge number of shops and restaurants. This mall caters to a very affluent clientele – including us of course!
After looking around for awhile, I end up at Sam Brown’s for lunch. I have a good cappuccino, however the roast chicken sandwich is only mediocre. After an hour or so, we re-board the bus and carry on to Durban. Before we check into our hotel, the bus drops us off at the Botanical Garden. There are some spectacular orchids in the Orchid House, and I have some very nice tea and a scone at the tea house. We also stop at the Indian Market, which is a fun place to waste some time.
Downtown Durban is a chaotic mess. There are taxi vans picking up people everywhere, the traffic seems to go in six directions at once, and just to add insult to injury, the street names are all being changed so there are two different signs for most streets!
We are staying at the Tropicana Hotel, which is located right on the beach downtown. The room is nothing special but it’s clean. Craig tells us we shouldn’t walk the beach area due to a “bad element”. He certainly is correct about that – I see lots of action going on across the street which I would rather not be part of! This evening we have a group dinner at RJ’s restaurant – which is about a 20 minute drive across the city. The restaurant isn’t prepared to serve 40 people at once, but the staff do their best. The food is mediocre, but everyone in our group stays good humoured about it.
After returning to our hotel, I’m kept up most of the night from noisy street parties happening all around us. I work on my computer sorting photos and video until the parties stop a few hours before dawn, so I only get a couple of hour’s sleep before our early wake up call. From my somewhat limited exposure to Durban, I am not impressed!
As with all our hotel arrangements, my stay at the Royal Swazi includes breakfast, but this morning I just can’t face a full English breakfast of eggs and bacon. Instead, I have hot cereal, fruit, and brown toast. I catch the shuttle back to the Lugogo Sun Hotel and check in with Craig and board the bus. This is certainly the property the group tours use – there are people and buses everywhere this morning as everyone gets ready to depart. The Royal Swazi was tranquil in comparison.
Craig tells us some of the history of Swaziland, and we are taken around to see the royal compound where the old Swazi king Sobhuza II lived. He had 70 wives and over 1,000 grandchildren! The new Swazi king Mswati III has 14 wives at present. Apparently a Swazi king is expected to marry a woman from every clan in order to keep good relationships with every corner of Swaziland. The current King isn’t very popular, since most Swazis think he spends too much money on himself and his wives (which appears to be true). A giant road sign near Manzini wishes the King a happy 40th birthday. Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS rate of any country in the world.
We stop at the Swazi Candle factory and a roadside fruit & curio stand before we get to the border point at Golela by noon. We wait for a half an hour in the hot sun to clear South African customs and immigration, however Craig assures us that wait times at the other border points into South Africa from Swaziland can run to several hours. We are just grateful to be back on the air conditioned bus, and on our way to St. Lucia, located on the Indian Ocean coast. We stop at a highway rest stop and I have lunch at Wimpy’s again – ordering the hake fish & chips. It is very good and cost less than 50 Rand (US$5.00) including a small Coke.
We arrive at the Protea Hotel in St. Lucia at 4pm and soon learn this whole area is under severe water restrictions. The municipality shuts off the water at 9pm and doesn’t turn it back on until 5am. They also turn the water off midday from 10am-3pm. The hotel is no great shakes, but it will do for the night.
Most of us take the St. Lucia Estuary Boat Cruise at 5pm, which cruises up the estuary showing us some of the wildlife along the shores: African Fish Eagle, Goliath Heron, Hippopotamus, Kudu, and some smaller animals. I don’t think it is up to the standard of the Chobe River boat cruise in Botswana, but I take my best photos and video of hippos and African Fish Eagles on this cruise. I’m a bit annoyed by my group – they won’t stop talking, so the wildlife are skittish. The guy at the helm of the boat runs right over a hippo – such an idiot! This is one of South Africa’s World Heritage sites, however the South Africans need to take better care of it.
On the way back from the boat cruise, Craig tells us about the timing for the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve open vehicle safari tomorrow morning. Our wakeup call will be 4:45am, and we need to be out the door by 5:15am! He says the safari will end around 9am, so that works for me. I guess lots of us will be sleeping on the bus as we proceed to Durban tomorrow.
This evening I go to Alfredo’s Italian restaurant for dinner, which is located across the street from the Protea Hotel in St. Lucia. This is a family run restaurant with very reasonable prices. I order the Seafood Misto (prawns, line fish & calamari strips), an Italian salad starter, and a glass of wine. This is the best seafood I’ve had in a long time. Total cost is 190 Rand (US$20) – a very good price! This meal would be at least double the price in Canada. I had a Cappuccino to finish – a bit watery, and the décor is drab, but overall I highly recommend this restaurant because of the excellent food and good service.
I am out of bed by 4:30am this morning. The hotel has coffee ready for us in the lobby at 5am, and the bus departs at 5:30am. Today is the optional half day open vehicle Safari in the famous Kruger National Park. Kruger was one of the first big game preserves setup in Africa. Alfred is our driver and guide today.
Only a few minutes after we depart from the main gate, we spot a troupe of baboons as they sit on the rocks watching the beautiful sunrise. Just down the same road we spot a lioness & her three cubs in the rocks, along with a couple more lions who appear to be sentries. Again, they are facing east toward the beautiful sunrise. Either of these scenes could easily be the model used by Disney for their Lion King movies – African game perched on big round rocks, showing the same beautiful early morning light.
Next up is a big herd of buffalo – perhaps 100-200 head. Some of us are concerned for our safety, since these beasts could easily overturn our vehicle and they are only 10 metres away. We move on and spot a baby elephant walking through the bush along the roadway, and then we see a baby Giraffe who still has a dangling umbilical cord despite him being upright and walking on his own. Albert says he is about a day old. We watch while he walks over to his mother and starts suckling.
Further down the road we encounter a big bull Elephant. Albert eventually has to move the Land Rover out of his way, since he wants to cross the road where we happen to be stopped. He had already shown us how strong he is by pushing over a tree while we watched from a few metres away!
Albert hears about rhinos on the radio, so he tells us to jump in the vehicle and drives quickly to a water hole where I sight my first rhinoceros in Africa (there are virtually none left in Botswana). It is a female White Rhinoceros with her baby – both placidly laying in the mud, at least until the same huge bull elephant we encountered a few minutes ago comes ambling along wanting to use the water hole. The female rhino stands up to face him, and he thinks better of his plan and carefully walks around the water hole and off into the bush – preferring to wait until she and her baby leave. The Zebra are at same water hole, content with the protection from lions that the rhino gives them.
After we take a lunch break, Albert is driving us out of the rest area when he hears of a sighting of a leopard. He takes off at breakneck speed and we manage to home in on the leopard as it sits on a rock beside the river. I shoot a few seconds of video before the leopard disappears into the bush.
It is a four hour Safari, so Alfred drives us around for the next hour or two, however all we see is a couple more lions as they traverse a dry river bed. It is now late morning, and as I learned in Botswana, the animals all disappear by this time of day. I give Alfred a generous tip – he deserves it for finding all of the “big five” in about two hours!
This optional open vehicle safari was originally scheduled to take place in the afternoon. Craig knew the prime time for safaris is early morning, so he rearranged things for us. This is the sort of service an excellent guide will routinely do for tours, ensuring his clients get the maximum enjoyment from the arrangements.
Phineus and Craig take the bus around Kruger Park for the people who did not book the optional open vehicle safari. Obviously this group was not as mobile as we were in our Land Rover, however Kruger has mostly paved roads, so they spotted a surprising number of big game as well…all with the comfort of air conditioning.
October 23, 2008 – Thursday – We take a Noon flight to Xigera airstrip, and are met at the airstrip by the Xigera camp manager. He drives us a short distance to the launch point for the motorboat which will take us to Xigera Camp. The problem is the water level is so low, the boat driver has to gun it so we “fly” through the shallows. It is a thrilling trip!
There are no cots to sleep on at Xigera Camp, so we have to sleep on the floor of the tents with a foam pad under us. There are only short drop toilets (no flush). There are almost no mosquitoes at the camp, despite Victor warning us they would reappear here. The reason things are more “rustic” at this camp is because there are no roads into the camp. All camp fixtures and supplies have to be brought in by boat, and due to the shallow water, mokoros (dug out canoes) are the usual mode of transportation in this area of the Okavango Delta. We are staying at a tiny remote camp deep in the delta – some say this is the best water-based safari in Botswana.
William is the local guide for this camp. He takes us on a walking safari at 5:30pm, and we see some Kudus. The camp staff setup a table in the savannah just outside camp, and serve us Sundowners. We have a wonderful lamb stew, rice & vegetables for dinner, and eat around the campfire. We don’t have a mosquito problem either night at this camp, probably due to the daytime heat and the evening breezes.
This area of the Okavango Delta is permanently flooded and is very picturesque, however there are fewer big game in this area. The game are harder to approach, since safaris in this area are either on foot or in a mokoro (dug out canoe). Without the use of safari vehicles, it is not easy to find or get close to the animals. This doesn’t really concern me, since our time in Linyanti Camp, Lechwe Island Camp, and the Chobe River boat cruise have fully satisfied me for observing and photographing African big game. However if you are booking safari tours in Botswana, be sure to include camps in other areas of the Okavango Delta where safari vehicles can be used.
October 24, 2008 – Friday – We are up at 5:30am for an early morning Mokoro safari through the waterways. We see a large family of baboons playing around in a big tree near the shoreline; Red Lechwe antelope bounding through the water; Kudu watching us from the shoreline; and we see crocodile tracks on shore and hear some Hippopotamus a short distance away from our mokoros. We return to camp by 9:20am – the Sun is already high in the sky, and the daytime heat is building. We have Brunch at 10:30am, then it is time for a siesta as the midday heat takes hold (about 40°C in the shade). All our tents are located under the shade of trees, so we are reasonably comfortable as we rest.
Botswanan men normally keep their hair close cropped, but one strikingly handsome young Mokoro poler has about 1cm long curls. I saw Victor tutoring him as he poled us through the channels, so he is obviously studying to be a guide. Most camp staff take their careers seriously, with many studying so they can apply for advancement opportunities. The operator of the camps we used in Botswana is Wilderness Safaris, which appear to offer local people well paid careers in eco-tourism.
Later in the afternoon, I spot some very cute resident monkeys in the trees above our tents. They play peek-a-boo with me and my video camera. The camp staff have done a wonderful job of keeping all the food out of the way, and not tempting the monkeys to come down from the tree canopy. We have no problems with the monkeys as a result. We go on another mokoro safari through the waterways between 5:30pm and 7pm, and see some birds, a very colourful Reed Frog, and some elephant bones on an adjacent island.
October 25, 2008 – Saturday – We get up at 5:30am for one last early morning safari before we leave camp. This time we walk, and see two sets of Leopard tracks, Elephants in the distance, and some Impala on the savannah in the middle of the island we are located on.
We leave camp at 12 noon on the motor boat – once again zipping through the shallow delta water at full throttle. It is just as thrilling as our arrival trip! We spot a Giraffe sitting down in the bush and resting (a first), and we also watch brown-striped Zebras graze beside the Xigera airstrip before we board the last local flight we will take in Botswana – flying from Xigera to Maun.
Lechwe Island Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana, Africa
October 20, 2008 – Monday – As we arrive at Lechwe Island Camp, in addition to offering us cool towels, the staff break out into a welcome song! This camp is located in the Moremi Game Reserve Private Concession, and is not as dry as the previous camp. The waterways seem endless as we drive around on safari. There are lots of water birds to see (ducks, geese, herons, wading birds).
October 21, 2008 – Tuesday – There was lightning and thunder just before dawn this morning, but no rain. On our safari this morning we spot a Leopard on the far side of a clearing. It was just sitting there looking at us, and then took off into the bush. Victor parked the Land Cruiser and took us on our first walking safari. He was packing a gun, and we were walking single file. Strict instructions from Victor: don’t wander off, and if an elephant charges, stand your ground. He tells us he has never had to fire his gun, and he only armed it once. After we were back in the vehicle, we also saw an Elephant carcass, a herd of Buffalo, and some Kudus leaping and bounding across a spillway. I am fascinated with a pair of Saddle-billed Storks – performing for us, as they land and take off again. They are huge water birds with bright orange beaks and beautiful black and white body colouring.
This evening I decide to observe the stars from in front of my tent, since this site is so dark. It must be 1,000 kilometres to the nearest town of any size. The Milky Way is virtually overhead and is a spectacular site. The Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud are both visible with my unaided eye.
October 22, 2008 – Wednesday – On our safari this morning we spot an old female Elephant feeding in a clearing by herself. She appears to be near death – her ribs are showing and she has an indented forehead. Victor tells us she is alone because she can’t keep up with the herd. Apparently her molars will also be worn out, so she will have trouble digesting her food, which explains why she is so thin. Sad, but that’s life…and death.
Impala are normally very skittish – they don’t become adapted to safari vehicles like other game. Today a group of Impala were preoccupied with something other than us, so I took my best video of this animal (see below for the video). The effects of the Kalahari are never far from travellers to Botswana. Daytime heating can whip up strong, hot winds, especially in the afternoon. After lunch such a wind happened, so I washed a few clothes and hung them out – they were dry in an hour – just as fast as a clothes dryer!
We had a special treat on this afternoon’s safari. We came upon a pride of four lions resting beside a water hole. The sun was low in the sky, so we just stayed there and observed until the sun set. It was a magical experience.
As we returned to camp in the dark, we saw the eyes of a leopard off in the bush just outside camp. Victor also spotted a scorpion in the road as we were driving into camp, and stopped so we could get a photo. He wouldn’t let us out of the vehicle, because he said this particular scorpion is one of the most poisonous. There is no known anti-venom treatment. When I returned to my tent, there was a Preying Mantis hanging out on the frame of my wash basin – a big bug at about 3cm long!
October 23, 2008 – Thursday – The morning light illuminates the spillway in front of my tent, making the scene look almost like a painting. Observing the Kudus and Impalas across the water with my binoculars makes the morning that much more sublime. We go on a short canoe trip up the spillway before leaving to catch our noon flight to Xigera Camp.
October 17, 2008 – Friday – As I lie in bed this evening, I hear Hippopotamus in the spillway just a few metres from my tent flap.I quickly learn that this vacation is not going to include the luxury of sleeping in. Early morning is the most productive time to go on safari, so we need to get up before the Sun rises and be ready to observe the animals as they start their morning activities.
Here is our typical routine for the three days we were at Linyanti Camp:
6am -11am – Main Safari with a tea break mid-morning
Noon Lunch in camp
Siesta until 4pm – very hot part of the day (40°C in the shade)
4:30pm-7:00pm – second Safari with a break
Linyanti Camp is on the border between the Savuti Spillway and the dry mopane woodland. My tent is only a few metres away from the Spillway, so I have a wonderful location to observe wildlife from as they move along and through the water. We have strict instructions from camp staff to not leave our tents without an escort. This is not a zoo – this is real life! The big game in particular can be very dangerous. Each tent has a short drop toilet en-suite for night-time use, so we don’t have to go wandering around the camp in the dark to find the toilet.
There are rules to follow while on safari as well. First rule: stay in the vehicle at all times. Second rule: be quiet and don’t move around! The only time we get out of the vehicle is for rest stops and tea time. Our guides pick a safe spot and keep a watch out for animal movement while we are stretching our legs or having a snack. We must not wander off out of sight. Big game animals don’t consider the safari vehicle a threat, and providing we appear to be part of the vehicle by being quiet and still, they are quite happy to let us get close to them. They obviously know the vehicle is there, but they just don’t care, especially once they are conditioned to having vehicles approach them.
Land Rovers rigged for safaris typically hold 9 passengers, and Land Cruisers hold 10-12 passengers depending on how they are configured. Since there was only Ernst and myself in a Land Cruiser, we could take advantage of moving from side to side, and having our photo gear bags open and beside us at all times. This was an ideal situation, since we never had anyone in the way of observing or photographing an animal. Victor and his side man were also able to cater to our every need, since they only had two people to deal with. Ernst and I were very pleased with this situation, and I think you will agree I managed to capture some very good photos and video as the safari progressed.
October 18, 2008 – Saturday – Our morning safari is very productive. First up are two male lions and a female resting under some bushes beside the Savuti Spillway. Shortly after that Victor receives a radio report of some Wild Dogs, however it is some distance away. Nonetheless, we drive to the spot and are rewarded with perhaps the wildlife highlight of the trip: 6 adult Wild Dogs and 7 pups. Victor tells us there are only 2,000 left in the whole of Botswana. We sit there about five metres away from the pack and just take our time. They obviously just finished devouring a fresh kill, because they are all lying on the ground in the shade of a big tree. They don’t bother chasing off the vultures from claiming a few of the scraps.
Our late afternoon safari isn’t so productive, since we get stuck in the Kalahari sand. Victor radios for the service crew to rescue us, so we are on our way in less than an hour.
October 19, 2008 – Sunday – We park beside the Savuti Spillway and watch a female Elephant and her baby cross the water toward us. She is very wary of us, and takes her time before they both make a final dash for the shore and vanish into the cover. We also see Giraffe twice: once early in the morning as they are feeding on tree leaves, and again in the late afternoon as they are returning from the spillway. After we return to camp, some Elephants wander through the camp while we are resting in our tents.
October 20, 2008 – Monday – Linyanti Camp to Lechwe Island Camp – We had some rain last night which lasted about 20 minutes – enough to see some splatters in the sand, but not enough to do any good. I hear some Hippopotamus in front of my tent this morning, and take a photo through the tent flap. You don’t want to go outside and risk a confrontation, since Hippos can easily outrun humans, and they have a nasty attitude.
We leave for the next camp this morning. The closest airstrip is built in the delta and is flooded out, so we have to drive to an alternate airstrip. This takes all morning, so we make a safari out of it; stopping for morning tea and lunch along the way. The flight is delayed an hour, so we must spend the time waiting in the afternoon heat.
Being a private pilot, I love traveling in small aircraft. We were transferred between camps three times in small aircraft on this trip. I think my aerial photos of the Okavango Delta really show the beauty of the area. Although it is bone dry as we drive over the Kalahari sand while on safari, the water from the delta area nourishes the vegetation, and provides a biodiversity that rarely occurs elsewhere in Africa.