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Southern African Safari

Africa is such a special place. I've been all over the world to 40+ countries, but Africa is a place that always feels more familiar than it does foreign. My favorite part of working in travel is the privilege of cultivating someone's bucket-list experience, and this tour was the epitome of once-in-a-lifetime travel.



October 31- Transit

After picking up our Hendersonville folks, we took the new Mini-coach to the Atlanta Airport.  Along the way we got to  know each other, sharing some of our best travel stories.  At the airport, we reunited with the rest of our crew, buzzing with excitement.  The flight went by surprisingly quickly, even for those of us in the nosebleed section in the back next to two small children.


 

Cape Town

November 1- Cape Town Arrivals

We departed for another flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town and enjoyed our in-flight snacks and meals (a welcome change from what our American carriers offer on domestic flights).  The sun setting over Table Mountain was a welcome sight for the first flight, just as the city lights of Cape Town welcomed the second. 


On arrival at our hotel, you could smell and hear the ocean. After a quick and painless check-in at the Winchester Hotel, most were ready for bed (though a few of us stopped for a bite at the incredible Shoreditch restaurant on site).


November 2- Cape Town Free Day

The next morning was a delight to step outside our rooms to see the Bougainvillea covered courtyards.  The breakfast at the Winchester was the perfect introduction to our culinary journey—I had the Shakshuka, which is very hard to find in the US, but here it was flavored perfectly. 




On our free day, many of the group went on to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of his 27 years spent imprisoned for plotting to overthrow South Africa’s racist apartheid system.  The group toured his small cell, guided by a former prisoner who detailed life within the walls of the prison.   A somber experience, but one that certainly added a richness and context to the tour.


Nobel Square in Cape Town, featuring the 4 Nobel Peace Prize winners of South Africa:

Albert Lutuli, Desmond Tutu, F. W. de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela.

Photo by A. Mantzel


That evening, we met for our first official dinner at the Shoreditch, the restaurant on site at our hotel.  They brought out dish after dish, each more exciting and delicious than the last.


November 3- Cape Town City Tour

Our first day tour of Cape Town.  Early that morning, our local guide Leo came to pick us up. 


We began with a tour of Bo-Kaap, a colorful neighborhood that stands as a testament to the beauty of Cape Town’s diversity. This area dates to the 1700s as a settlement for slaves brought from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Africa. During the apartheid era, it is said inhabitants had to keep their houses a certain way, and could dress in dull whites and greys.  In 1994 when South Africa gained independence, the residents painted their houses as a celebration of their freedom.


Bo Kaap Streets, photo by A. Mantzel


Then we headed towards the eastern foot of Table Mountain towards the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. When the garden was founded in 1913, it was the first botanical garden in the world with an ethos of protecting and cultivating native species, at a time when invasive species were not considered an ecological problem. To this day, it boasts over 7,000 plant species. The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest of the 6 floral kingdoms in the world, but one of the most special places in terms of diversity, density, and number of endemic species.


King Protea

Photo by guest Phill Hanson


Fynbos is Afrikaans for "fine bush". What is incredible about fynbos is its resiliency. Table Mountain is over 600 million years old, whereas Mt. Everest, for example, is only 50 or 60 million years old. The vegetation has had to withstand a LOT-- including ice age catastrophe. One fun fact is that fires actually open the tightly sealed cones and underground bulbs of fynbos to growth.


Kirstenbosch, with Table Mountain in the background.

Photo courtesy of Phill Hanson

Walking along the "Boomslang," a canopy walkway named after Africa's notorious venomous green tree snake.

Photo by A. Mantzel

After lunch at a local winery, we headed back to the cable car to summit Table Mountain, but just as we reached the top the entire car was surrounded by clouds.  It made for a different type of dramatic scenery, as we couldn’t see beyond the cliffs.

Table Mountain Rock Face as seen from the rotating cable car

Photo by Phill Hanson



A delicious seafood smorgasbord from the charming and eclectic Kloof Street House.

Photo by A. Mantzel



November 4- Franschoek

Today the majority of the group went on to Franschoek to sample some of the region’s finest wines, while two brave souls opted to go diving with sharks instead. 


We began the day at the gardens of Babylonstoren, drooling over the fresh produce in the farm store, and savoring the scents of their greenhouse. 

Babylonstoren, photo by A. Mantzel


Then we went on to our first wine tasting at the Anthonij Rupert Wine estates, then a Methode Cap Classique (MCC– the South African version of Champagne)  tasting at Le Lude Wine Estate.  The only difference in MCC and Champagne is where the grapes are grown, but otherwise uses the same French method known as methode champenoise.


We then took our appetites to the Chef’s Warehouse Maison, where we were treated to a multi-course meal with a gorgeous montane farmland backdrop. 


Chef’s Warehouse Maison, Photo by Al Bruce


We had dinner reservations at the Pot Luck Club near the old Biscuit Mill, and while we missed the views of the cable car the day prior, the elevator and rooftop seating here nearly made up for it. 


November 5- Cape Point

With traveling, sometimes comes random sicknesses, and nobody (even those of us who have been to 40+ countries), is immune to Montezuma’s Revenge.  On this particular day (and the entire night before), I had met my match.

 So I had to stay behind while the group went on to one of the most exciting days of the tour– seeing penguins in the wild! 

Here are some of the fantastic photos our guests took:

Photo by Jessica Goodman


Photo by Phill Hanson



Some of the group got to hike Cape Point while the others took the funicular up to the top.  The lunch at Foodbarn in Noordhoek was some of the best they  had– so good that most opted to skip dinner. 

We had an early night here, since we’d have an early flight the following day.


 

INTO BOTSWANA

November 6- Transit to Kasane

An early morning, our driver picked us up at 4:45 am for our 6 am flight to Kasane-- the village at the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia (the only place in the world where 4 countries meet!)  We said goodbye to Cape Town, and arrived at our lodge in the Chobe National Park where we were greeted by cold towels, a cheery song, and welcome beverages.  Upon arrival, walking onto the terrace we could immediately see Namibia right across the river.  Our lodge hosts had prepared a generous spread of grilled sandwiches, barbecued ribs, puffed pastries, and more. Moreover, they gifted each of us personalized water bottles– this helped significantly reduce our environmental impact as we didn’t have to rely on single-use plastic water bottles.


 We quickly settled into our spacious and well appointed accommodations (individual suites with a private plunge pool, outdoor shower, and an unobstructed view of the park, and Namibia!). 



Then, we were off to our first official safari of the tour, and it did not disappoint! We stopped to observe a troop of baboons and their complex social organization– new mothers with babies on their backs, veteran mothers with babies on their bellies, the alpha baboon, and the lookout baboon, all playing their roles.





Here, we observed a troop of baboons with a herd of impala-- this is common symbiotic relationship, as the baboon have excellent eyesight, and the impala have great hearing which helps to stay alert against predators.


We could have watched all day, but our guide had picked up some tracks from a leopard, which to many is the most challenging to find of the big 5, since they are stealthy hunters


Quick note: The Big 5 refers to the 5 most dangerous animals to encounter while hunting on foot.  They are the Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, Rhinoceros, and Elephant. 


Typically nocturnal, and extremely solitary, most leopards spend their days sleeping up in trees.  We were lucky to come just at the end of the dry season, as we got a few fantastic views of animals who would otherwise be hidden behind foliage.


This leopard was clearly unbothered by our presence. To be able to observe her so close on the first day was an absolute treat.


Photo by Phill Hanson


This evening was special, as 2 of our guests were celebrating their 41st wedding anniversary!  The lodge did a great job of helping to make their stay memorable– not only did they decorate their room, but serenaded them with a beautiful song, dance, and cake!  




November 7- Ngoma Safari Lodge

This morning, we went for a river cruise where we got to see numerous hippopotamus feeding out of the water. This is highly unusual and specific to this area, since hippos typically prefer to stay underwater during the day to protect their backs from sunburn.  However in this area, there’s such competition for food that they are often found feeding on land.  We also got to see numerous crocodiles and monitor lizards.


We returned in time for lunch, then had a few moments to ourselves before the next game drive. This afternoon,  we came across 2 male lions who had taken down a baby elephant! This was mind-blowing– how could that have happened?  Tebby and Nelson, our local guides, described to us the lion politics within the park– these two brothers actually controlled 3 prides.  Typically you’d have one male controlling one pride until another male challenges him, but these brothers opted to work together.  One noteworthy thing is that the elephant herds we saw there were rather small– at one time I saw 2 adults and one baby, whereas a healthy herd is typically 10-20. The guides suspected one brother got in front and distracted the older elephants while the other went in to kill the baby.  




One thing to note is that all cats have very similar genetic makeup, and they all share a need to hunt, pounce, and stalk that is separate from the need to eat.  Therefore, a cat may not immediately eat its meal after the attack.  In this case, one of the lions stayed back with the elephant while the other decided to go have a drink.


We continued on our drive, and came upon another leopard, much younger than the first.  She laid on the ground, panting very, very heavily.  She looked very small, and we guessed that she had recently separated from her family structure and was now on her own.  


November 8- Ngoma Safari Lodge

This morning, we set off for our first game drive and encountered the two male lions once again, this time closer to the park’s edge.  They were covering serious ground, almost like they were taking a victory lap after their massive kill.  The guides mentioned there were female lionesses with male cubs in the park, but that they would keep them well hidden so the males did not try to kill them.


Later, we ran into the same young female leopard again– this time with fresh kill! She had dragged an impala all the way up into a Baobab tree, and seemed enamored with every morsel.  It was a relief to all of us, as the day before we were collectively concerned for her.  She was doing just fine.




After another delicious breakfast, we gathered together to go visit our guide’s village of Muchenje. First, we stopped at an organic farm where our lodge sources 100% of their fruits and vegetables.  This is incredible!  

Many times tourism can create a detrimental footprint on areas visited.  This happens when outsider money goes to foreign pockets, while using the resources within the places visited.  By eating local food, this employs farmers, and cuts out the need to transport outside food. I should note here that I have hired hundreds of naturalist guides for birdwatching tours around the world, and Tebby was one of the best.  Very smart/accurate, excellent spotter, and has an impeccable understanding of the overall ecosystem of Chobe. 


This was such a crucial part of the tour, as we got to visit the school where Tebby went when he was a boy.  The students were all very engaging and well-behaved, and it was obvious that Tebby is well-revered in his community.  One of our drivers went to school with him and said he was always “the coolest”.  Tebby is a legend and role model  in his community– there are so many jobs someone can take, and not all are ethical (poaching, smuggling, etc.), so his involvement and presence within his community is important.


 

INTO ZIMBABWE


November 9- Transit to Zimbabwe

On the final morning, a large male baboon patrolled back and forth outside my suite.  I wanted to advise him that in an hour or two he’d have my pool to himself, but our communication was unfortunately limited to banging on the window a few times.




It was bittersweet saying goodbye to our lodge, the staff, and the guides, but despite our wishes we had to leave.  Our driver picked us up and assisted us to cross over to Zimbabwe–It’s noteworthy that even outside the park, we continued to spot warthogs, elephants, giraffe, zebras, impalas, kudu, etc.   I handled passports forms and fees while the group chatted with our new guide  in his air conditioned vehicle. From there it was a short drive to the Victoria Falls Hotel. Built by the British in 1904, it was originally conceived as accommodation for workers on the Cape-to-Cairo railway.  The halls of the hotel are lined with historic artifacts, like photos of Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) on her 21st birthday.  Their family visited in 1947 as a ‘thank you’ to the people of Africa for their support during the Second World War, and commandeered the entire Victoria Falls Hotel.




After settling into our rooms, the group collected downstairs for the famous high tea on Stanley’s Terrace.  Afterwards we welcomed a bit of down time– some went for a stroll, some went shopping, but I ended up taking a helicopter tour with one of the guests over the falls.  It was only 15 minutes long, but what an introduction to the falls. I suspect we may be adding this to the itinerary next year:) 




That evening we reunited as a group to have dinner at the Jungle Junction.  This was an elaborate buffet style meal that had a series of entertainers.  First, they had a Zimbabwean-style marimba band.  Then, they had hand drummers and a troop of dancers in elaborate costumes who danced the traditional Mbende Jerusarema, a type of Shona dance that weaves stories from their ancestors into the present day.




November 10- Victoria Falls

After eating from a massive breakfast buffet spread at the Jungle Junction, we met our guide Ntogozo who took us on a guided walking tour of Victoria Falls.  Long known to local tribes as Mosi oa-Tunya, (“the smoke that thunders”), Livingstone described the falls as “a sight so wonderful it must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” The spray from the falls was welcome, as the day only got hotter and hotter!  We finished the tour at the famous Lookout Cafe, where our table overlooked the falls with brave zipliners and bungee jumpers.  After we were dropped at the hotel, it seems like we had mere moments to spare before we were on to the Sunset Safari Cruise.




This was another fantastic way to see the Zambezi– while on our riverboat, we spotted more elephants, hippos, crocodiles, and a variety of shorebirds while snacking on samplers and sipping our cocktails (the more you drink, the more animals you see!)

This evening we gathered for our final dinner in Zimbabwe in the famous Livingstone Room.



 

Back to South Africa


November 11- Transit to Zambia > South Africa

Today was a travel day– Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa– 3 countries in one day! We woke up in Zimbabwe– after finishing our extravagant breakfast (and some of us took a dip in their luxurious pool), we loaded into our air conditioned vehicles and headed for the Zambian border.  It was a relatively painless process, and from there it was a quick drive to the Livingstone Airport.  We flew on to Nelspruit airport in South Africa, and from here our driver took us on a 3 hour road tour from Nelspruit to Hoedspruit, where our lodge just outside Kruger National Park awaited. Upon arrival we were struck by the vastness of the accommodations.  The wooden planked walkways were bordered by sand paths where we could easily see which game had been coming through at night.


The rooms were exceptionally spacious with outdoor balconies, so we could view game right outside the room.


November 12- Kapama River Lodge

We gathered for tea and coffee, and then launched our first game drive within Kapama.  Within minutes of being on our drive, we encountered a large and lumbering White Rhino. One advantage of being at a privately owned game park as the traffic is well-regulated. Rhinos can be very dangerous to vehicles-- they have poor vision, and can charge at any large object that seems like it could be threatening!



After another massive breakfast,  a few of us went off on a bush walk where we walked single file between two rifled men.  This was a great way to move slowly through the bush, identifying some of the vegetation and medicine that the animals and people have lived off of for centuries, such as the Knob Thorn Tree, the Cork Bush, and the Ivy Grape. While on foot we also encountered a herd (or obstinancy) of Cape Buffalo across a watering hole.  At first they were unbothered, but the longer we stayed and observed, the more alert they became.  After all 4 of them had been standing erect watching us for a minute, one veered off from the group and that’s when our guide judiciously advised that it was time for us to leave. 


That evening we had another game drive.  We got to observe a memory of elephants with babies, a lone male lion who was airing out his underside from tick bites, and more.  We saw so many Leopard Tortoises out and about though– a sign that rain was coming. 




November 13- Kapama River Lodge

This morning, we drove down a dirt path for some time, then came to a halt, and turned around.  We went back down the path again, and turned around. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps  he was sick of us and determined to bore us to death. We zig zagged several times before the guide told me he saw something running.  We turn towards a new path eventually, and lo and behold! Not one, but FOUR Rhinos.  We cheered, “bravo, sir!”  But he kept driving.  Only 40 feet away, there was a lion ahead on the path… given all that we had seen, we were (dare I say) bored by lions.  


But the guide said “No! Listen to her call.  This is the call to her baby.”  So we slowed the vehicle, and the lioness paced back and forth restlessly.  At one point she came so close to the car I dared not move my hand from filming.  The lioness continued to grunt, and then this happened….





This was the perfect cap to our tour– seeing lionesses with their cub.  We returned to the lodge with massive grins on our faces, and ready for our final supper.  We clinked glasses to a fantastic tour, to memories made, and to new friends.


November 14- Final Day

The final day.  It started pouring down rain right at 6 am when we would have departed for a game drive, so we collectively called it off.  After packing our things and having breakfast, many went to the lobby to wait, while others went to the bar for one final round of Amarula milkshakes.  The airport was just on the other side of the road from the Kapama Lodge, so it was a quick transfer where we then caught a direct flight back to Cape Town.  Here we were met with our surplus luggage many of us had left behind, so we took a moment to re-pack and eat some food before checking into our international flights home.

 

Prior to this tour, the last time I was in Africa was February 2020.   It's surreal to think it's been that long-- it feels like a lifetime ago, and also like it was just yesterday. I had taken a small group to witness the great migration in the Serengeti. Wild animals can be incredible teachers-- at the end of the day, we all have the same basic instincts: feeding; breeding; and evading predators. One of the most memorable moments for me was watching a young lion break into a sprint towards a herd of Cape Buffalo, and watching the herd chase him off, in turn. The big takeaway: there's always power in numbers!


2020 was my first tour under my own brand as I had just launched my own travel business in November 2019 (unfortunate timing!). On the return flight in February 2020, everyone was in hazmat suits. But this lesson of the lone lion and the Cape Buffalo was an important one for me -- collaboration and cooperation will always trump greed and ego. And so, I feel incredibly fortunate to have met Greg during the pandemic, who also cares as much about providing once-in-a-lifetime experiences to others as I do. When tourism was hit hard during the pandemic, he carved out new opportunities to make travel possible to the masses when most other companies were buckling. I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate that he asked me to host this tour. Thanks for reading, and hope to travel with you soon.


-Amanda Mantzel


 

View details for our 2024 Tour HERE

Call today to reserve your space! (828) 692-1399

 

List of species seen:

Mammals:

  • Baboon, Chacma

  • Duiker, Common

  • African Elephant

  • Small-spotted Genet

  • Giraffe

  • Scrub Hare

  • Hippopotamus

  • Spotted Hyena

  • Rock Hyrax

  • Impala

  • Black-backed jackal

  • Greater Kudu

  • Red Lechwe

  • Leopard

  • Lion

  • Banded Mongoose

  • Yellow Mongoose

  • Vervet Monkey

  • White Rhinoceros

  • Sable Antelope

  • Serval

  • Tree Squirrel

  • Steenbok

  • Warthog

  • Waterbuck

  • Blue Wildebeest

  • (Burchell’s) Zebra


  • Little 5

  • Antlion

  • Buffalo Weaver

  • Elephant Shrew

  • Leopard Tortoise

  • Rhino Beetle


Reptiles & Amphibia

  • Common Toad

  • Black Mamba

  • Mole Snake

  • Flap-necked Chameleon

  • Nile (Water) Monitor

  • Striped Skink

  • Leopard Tortoise


Birds:

  • European Bee Eater

  • Carmine’s Bee Eater

  • Swallow-tailed Bee Eater

  • Tropical Boubou

  • Common Buzzard

  • Reed Cormorant

  • Grey Crowned Crane

  • Wattled Crane

  • Cape Crow

  • European Cuckoo

  • African Darter

  • African Mourning Dove

  • Cape Turtle Dove

  • White-faced whistling Duck

  • Yellow-billed duck

  • African Fish Eagle

  • Brown Snake Eagle

  • Tawny Eagle

  • Great White Egret

  • Western Cattle Egret

  • Coqui Francolin

  • Crested Francolin

  • Go-away bird (Grey Lourie)

  • Egyptian Goose

  • Helmeted Guineafowl

  • White-crested Helmet-shrike

  • Goliath Heron

  • Grey Heron

  • Purple Heron

  • Brown-backed Honeybird

  • Southern Ground Hornbill

  • Southern Red-billed Hornbill

  • Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill

  • African Sacred Ibis

  • Glossy Ibis

  • African Jacana

  • Malachite Kingfisher

  • Black-shouldered Kite

  • Blacksmith Lapwing

  • Long-toed Lapwing

  • European Nightjar

  • African Openbilled Stork

  • Western Osprey

  • Common Ostrich

  • Pearl-spotted Owlet

  • Red-billed Oxpecker

  • Yellow-billed Oxpecker

  • Collared/Red-winged Pratincole

  • White-browed Robin-chat

  • European Roller

  • Lilac-breasted Roller

  • African Spoonbill

  • Red-billed Spurfowl

  • Swainson’s Spurfowl

  • Cape Glossy Starling

  • Meve’s Starling

  • Marabou Stork

  • Blue Waxbill

  • African Golden Weaver

  • Red-billed Buffalo Weaver

  • Golden-tailed Woodpecker


Plants:

  • Umbrella thorn

  • Baobab

  • Apple Leaf

  • Marula

  • Buffalo Thorn

  • Silver cluster-leaf

  • Ivy Grape

  • Wandering Dew

  • African Weeping Wattle



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