Monday, 24 December 2007

Addo Elephant Park

We had an absolutely wonderful overnight stay at Addo.

The chalet was lovely and being a scorcher of a day, the aircon most welcome and we saw a vast amount of wildlife which just made the stay that much better - saw everything except the big cats.

I will definately be recommending the park and referring your services to many friends.

Thank you and best wishes for the festive season.


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Thursday, 13 December 2007

Kruger Park, Swaziland and KwaZulu Natal Drakensberg

Thanks all the arrangements you made for us.

Nearly everything worked fine. I have a few comments which may be of interest.

Southern Sun O.R. Thambo
I have stayed there before (1982 and 1999) and was very satisfied. Things seem to have gone downhill, with very slow check-in/out (4 guys on the desk but only one seemingly capable of doing anything). They put us in a room next to the pool machinery which kept us awake all night. When I got home I found they had charged me R1072 directly, despite the pre-payment, but they reversed the charge two weeks later.

I shan't bother to stay there again. Also the airport site is a mess with all the construction work going on.

B&Bs (Magriets, Tamboti Ridge) were both excellent and with a lot of care and attention and good food.

Kruger National Park.
Very good at Bateleur, Tamboti Tented Camp and Berg-en-Dal, rather run-down at Punda Maria (especially) and Olifants.

Equipment seems to be a problem (minimal, cheapest, dangerous electrics, poor plumbing etc).
Wonderful animals of course.

Very poor access road at Phophonyane but excellent lodge and service.
Very good value facilities at Timbali Lodge.

I know all borders are irritating, but the one at Matsamo took the biscuit (all female, only one person able to make a decision, no rules, throwing her weight about etc).
Maybe because we were behind a mortuary wagon made things seem worse...

KZN Parks - as expected as we have stayed before.
Cape Vidal, Mpila Camp in the Imfolozi Game Reserve and Thendele in the Royal Natal Game Reserve are really great, and I think equipment and service is better than in Kruger.

Kulu's Cottage, Tinley Manor.
Very well equipped, fabulous views (saw a whale offshore).
Directions were wrong (coming from the north) and we ended up phoning the owner from Tinley Manor for the last mile (which was another very poor access road).
Also this was the only place we felt uneasy about just being there (told to shut the car in the garage and set the intruder alarm "as it's the pre-Christmas period".

Sani Valley Lodge
Arrived on a quite dismally wet Drakensberg day, appalling access road (the "scenic 3.5km" from the gravel main road was in fact a nightmare - and even the main road was being reconstructed!).

However, this was more than matched by the warmth of the welcome (glass of sherry and tales of waterspouts the previous day) and the quality of the lakeside lodge accommodation and service.

I cannot speak too highly of the couple of days here, despite the weather preventing us from getting up Sani Pass.

SA hospitality at its best.

Nationwide Airlines
I follow the arline industry fairly closely, and knew about the 737 incident at CPT before we set off.

So I was not surprised when I read they were grounded, but the reports were vague about the extent of the problem. Eventually I found out the 767s were flying again but not the 737s, which meant nothing from Durban on the 10th, when were due to travel back to JNB. I had already decided the simplest and safest thing was to drive back to Johannesburg from Royal Natal and forget about the flight, but of course needed to make sure the flight was indeed "off", hence the call from Harrismith that morning. Later I found out from the Nationwide web site that the only domestic CE flights on the 10th were JNB-CPT, and that DUR flights are supposed to resume on the 14th. All this means I expect a full refund of the Nationwide fare as they did not operate the flight.

Wild Card
I bought one at Punda Maria, the first Kruger night. Despite the copious web site information, it is still a baffling product. Whatever you think the price is, they will always produce a list with a higher rate (the expected R1395 became R1475).

It was accepted in Mlilwane in Swaziland, and at Mpila in KZN (who said they would refund the R80pppd conservation fee included in the accommodation rate I had paid).

However it was no use at Cape Vidal (for reasons I understand - different management) or Royal Natal (which I don't, but no bother).

Two places in Kruger provided credit for using the card to check in, but not others. And how do I spend the credit? Not very well thought out.

On conservation fees generally, I think they are rather steep. I know the old deal was hopelessly uneconomic, and I am more than prepared to pay a decent conservation fee, but R132pppd seems high to me, especially as the facilities do not seem to be improving. There is also a "foreigners/local" split which I don't like (as in ZIM).

All our national parks are free, based on the economic uplift they provide for the region.
I think the consultants got it wrong in SA.

I would say that the most serious problem we observed on our trip was the decline in the general infrastructure (roads, signs etc). I know we should not expect European standards in Africa, but I do feel the things we value most about SA are in danger because of serious decline of the infrastructure. Perhaps the worst experience was driving on the N2 from Piet Retief to Pongola, 100km or so. This road is blue on the map (ie apparently a motorway) but is in fact narrow, twisty and full of deep pot-holes. You expect some trouble on minor country roads, but this stretch was just appalling. The locals blamed the mining trucks.

Also the weather wasn't as good in this season as we have known it, and I know it has been a difficult year for floods and fires in many areas of SA.

Despite these little problems, we did have a great time and had many memorable encounters, too numerous to list.

Perhaps the nicest was watching a paradise flycatcher's nest at Tamboti Ridge survive a storm, and showing the owner our photos of it.

Thanks again for your help and knowledge in sorting out our itinerary; I expect we will be back, perhaps aiming for Namibia.

Best wishes and compliments of the season.

(listening to "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow" in the Ballito Spar with the checkout girls wearing Father Christmas hats in 30C temp, is one of the surreal memories!).

R Buckley

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Tuesday, 11 December 2007

5 Day Fly In/Microbus Kruger-Safari

Other than the lost passport at the airport, everything else was great.

I have to say the 5 Day Fly In /Microbus Kruger & Mpumalanga Safari was beyond my original expectation. The Tremisana game lodge was comfortable and in particular the staff there are really nice and knowledgeable. I had a great time.

I told people there that one day I will come back bringing some friends with me.

Again, thanks for making all the arrangement.


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