Sun Destinations Road Trip, an overview

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"There's a place I know about where the dirt road runs out. And we can try out the four-wheel drive". Lyrics from a song Mud on the Tires by Brad Paisley.

 

 

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This was Travel & Things final road trip for 2023 and a great way to end off the year.

I look forward to the continuing relationship with Sun Destinations as we head into 2024.

This is an overview of the 3 lodges that I visited and some of my experiences at each of them. More detailed posts will follow.

 

 

 

 

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Umkumbe Safari Lodge Riverside

This was my first lodge of the trip and by far the best for game viewing.

Who am I to complain about seeing leopard on almost every drive (that being said, in hindsight, Nyala came a close second)

This lodge certainly set the bar high for the drives that followed.

It was of interest to me that none of the guests seemed to be focused on the Big 5 mantra. Perhaps that is a good thing and will, in future, allow lodges to move away from that and create a more immersive experience for both local and international guests, rather than concentrating on the 5 species that have always been ‘front and centre’

The room that I was in had a river view and that meant that I could sit on my deck and watch the flow of wildlife passing by.

The is a lodge adage that states “The best sightings are the day BEFORE you arrive and the day AFTER you leave”!

During my time at the lodge, the species that most frequently popped up in front of my deck were mainly Bushbuck and Nyala. However, I was told by the guests in the room next door that there had been elephants in front of their room the day before my arrival.

I did see elephants and lions from the deck at the pool although both were at a distance.

 

 

 

One of the highlights was spending time with this cub, its sibling and its mother. All of them were very relaxed around the vehicles.

Umkumbe is situated in Sabi Sabi, an area well known for its leopard population and the almost guaranteed sightings.

Did you know?

Leopard cubs are born defenceless. The females keep them safe from predators by hiding them away in dens for their first eight weeks. The mother leopard will move her newborn every few days to keep predators from tracking them. The cubs are in danger from predators like snakes, hyenas, lions and even male leopards.

 

 

 

Don’t feel like sitting in your room? Why not relax near the pool with a glass of wine to keep you company?

 

 

 

The guides that I interacted with were knowledgable and the vehicles had trackers on the evening drives. Turns out that I had met my guide before when she worked at a camp that I visited a couple of years ago.

This troop of baboons was foraging in a drizzle and it made for soft lighting and a quiet and contemplative experience for all of us in the vehicle.

 

 

 

What, another leopard? Indeed it was.

 

 

 

This spotted hyena was found on the side of the road, lying out in the open, seemingly trying to protect itself from the rain that was now falling harder than a drizzle, but not quite a downpour.

Look closely and you can see the rain sparkling on its fur.

Interesting facts about Hyenas:

It has a large head with a long, thick, muscular neck and powerful jaws, giving the hyena the strongest bite of any mammal.

 

 

 

A Burchells Coucal, also known as the Rain Bird. Having done its work by bringing the rain, it was trying to take shelter and not succeeding.

 

 

 

There was a lot of interesting banter on our vehicle and it seems as if the lodge encourages interaction between guests (as an aside, it must be honeymoon season as there were recently married couples both here and at Nyala Safari Camp).

But we were all stunned into silence as we watched this pregnant female leopard come down to a waterhole to quench her thirst.

If it were not for our tracker, we would have driven off, totally oblivious to her presence.

 

 

 

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Nyala Safari Lodge.

The management couple of Nikki and Dave certainly makes guests feel welcome and the adage “Arrive as strangers and leave as friends” certainly applies here.

Using an outdoor shower in a lightning storm might not be the cleverest thing I have done but standing in the rain and under the shower while the trees in front of me were bathed in flashes of lightning was something to remember.

If you look carefully you will notice that there are elephants created from bath and hand towels on the bed. To utilise them, I had to “kill” them and removing the stickers that served as eyes made me sad. I searched the room for;non-elephant; towels but could not find any…and I did need to shower and dry off.

My room was reminiscent of the rondavels that can still be found at certain camps in the Kruger National Park, which is one of the reasons that I enjoyed my time here.

It transported me back to my first visit to KNP in 1966 where I celebrated my 13th birthday.

That trip was to change my life and place my feet firmly on a path that has included wildlife for decades to follow.

This lodge has crept into my heart after only one visit. It finds a place in my Top 5 lodges and will be hard to dislodge. Only sleeps 10 people, which allows for an intimate experience and personal service.

A first for me was the fact that the vehicle used on our drives was automatic and seated only 6 people. A SWB Landy that was a pleasure to be driven in.

The guiding team was a brother and sister, another first for me. They worked well together and the interaction between the siblings and those of us on the vehicle was relaxed and informative.

 

 

 

Highlight: Watching this jackal pup being chastized by its mother for straying too far when there was a leopard close by.

FYI: Jackal pups are suckled and fed regurgitated food until they are about two months old. By six months, they are hunting on their own. Sometimes pups will stay with their parents and help raise their younger siblings.

 

 

 

A couple of the drives either began or ended with a predator sighting (both leopard and lions) and although not all the dives were ‘busy’, all were certainly informative and educational.

This young leopard led us a merry dance, giving us tantalizing glimpses of its obscured face until it finally vanished, like a ghost, into the thick grass under a fallen tree.

 

 

 

While we were being transported from the gate to the lodge for lunch, we saw this Yellow-billed Hornbill having an inchworm for its meal.

 

 

 

We had heard this fellow vocalizing during the night, and it did not take us too long to find him the following morning.

This male was being mobbed by a flock of starlings that can be seen in the background.

 

 

 

All puffed up in the chilly morning air.

One of the more striking of the Starling family. This male Violet-Backed Starling was the first of many that I was to see on this road trip.

The males have this stunning plumage, while the females are a dull brown.

 

 

 

Sitting proudly on the side of her nest, high in a Jacalberry tree, this female Tawny Eagle surveyed the landscape around her.

 

 

 

As they are so numerous, Impala tends to be almost ignored. But surrounded by their offspring at this time of year, they tend to attract the attention of visitors due to the ‘cuteness’ factor.

December is lambing season and the bush is filled with the ‘mini-me’ versions of the adults.

 

 

 

Loping down the highway, this Spotted Hyena was oblivious to both the herd of Impala to his right and our vehicle directly in front of him.

 

 

 

This is a lodge that I hope to return to again…soon.

 

 

 

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Bundox River Lodge.

The luxury tented camp opened in March 2023 and has been constructed on eco principles. The buildings and the decor blend seamlessly into the surroundings and all 5 of the luxurious tents have river frontage, making game viewing from the lounge, dining room and all of the tents easy and inspiring.

Although the game drives that I did were quiet, the knowledge shared by the guide was interesting and entertaining.

There was a tracker on the vehicle and his eyesight was spectacular…even if it did mean that he would show me a duiker halfway up a hill that I had no chance to photograph.

As far as I am concerned, if the species is more than 10 meters away, it is not a sighting.

 

 

 

That being said the elephant herd on the opposite of the Olifants River WERE more than 10 meters away, but was out in the open and easy to watch from my deck.

The weather did not play along and I had to forgo my final drives due to downpours of epic proportions. I refuse to go out in the rain, and in this case, it paid off as I spent more than an hour watching the interactions of a breeding herd of elephants.

Just like a child will kick through a puddle of water, so too did this young bull.

 

 

 

Bubbles from both ends…

 

 

 

To cool for school?

This elephant seemed to be overcome by the sight of the river and lay on the sandy bank before taking the plunge.

 

 

 

Now THIS is what sand should be used for.

 

 

 

A Yellow Billed Stork practising to be a contortionist?

It was rubbing its head against its wing.

 

 

 

Every time I see a giraffe I am in awe of this creature who would not be out of place in a Jurassic Park movie.

 

 

 

A Grey Heron preening.

 

 

 

Highlight The unexpected interaction between an elephant and a hippo. I had seen the hippo earlier, but the elephant had no clue that it was going to walk straight into it! Priceless.

 

 

 

Pied Kingfishers are territorial and this one used this perch as a take-off point for my entire stay in camp.

 

 

 

This was a species that confounded me, the guide, the tracker and the lodge manager.

All of us SHOULD have known the name of the bird as all of us HAD seen it before.

It took a text message to a birder friend of mine to re-kindle the memory for all of us…

And the name was rather serendipitous…this is a Mocking Cliff Chat.

With an emphasis on mocking!

 

 

 

This large croc lay on this spot for the best part of 2 days, almost without moving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of a small herd of female waterbuck that we found not too far from the camp.

The hair around their necks has an important function. The hair follicles are hollow, allowing for buoyancy when swimming and helping them to keep their heads above the water.

 

 

 

A different type of sunset as the dying rays lit up the vegetation on the opposite bank of the Olifants River.

At night the eyes of at least 6 crocodiles could be seen glinting in my torchlight.

 

 

 

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