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Safari Feb or March 2013

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Old Monday 5th March 2012, 22:04   #1
Marcus Conway - ebirder
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Safari Feb or March 2013

I am attending a wedding in South Africa (Cape Town) in Feb/March 2013 and am looking into arranging some follow on wildlife photography.

I have asked a variety of my clients who have done photography safaris and the recommendations are various and all different. For example;

- Kruger
- Massai
- Botswana
- etc

And all have different reasons for promoting them. So here are my targets;

- photography of Cheetah and Leopard my main aims
- secondary targets Lion, Giraffe, Zebra other cats esp Caracal or Serval, Secretary bird, Hornbills, Bee Eater (esp Carmine)
- others targets Rhino, Lilac Breasted Roller, Grey Crowned Crane, Sunbirds, Meercats

Requirements
- less than 6 per vehicle/tour - preferably four max
- photography tour or guide
- locally based (i.e. must be live locally and understand the lay of the land and timings etc as opposed to a non local flying in and running a trip). Also prefer to hand any money over that stays in the local community.
- I would rather focus on getting shots as opposed to seeing as many species as possible e.g. would be happy photographing most subjects over seeing distant rhinos or whatever

As I am in Cape Town I would be happy to get a flight on somewhere else or take recommendations for where to visit to maximise time.

--------------------------------

In South Africa I will probably stay around the Cape - we have accommodation for free in Hermanes - so good for the Penguins - assume Boulders but welcome info. If there are any locals who want to meet up or recommendations for that time of year it would be appreciated. Happy to reciprocate if you ever come to the Highlands.

I am not really sure what is possible in that area but I have always wanted to photograph chameleons and I understand these can be found.

Is it worth a pelagic at this time - though I know there wont be so many whales passing through. We will be in and around the Cape for a week or so and am not sure what to include or exclude.
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Old Monday 5th March 2012, 22:23   #2
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Tshukudu is a game park not too far from Phalaborwa (Kruger). They have a semi-tame Cheeta (able and willing to catch its own food but still coming to the veranda to get petted. I am not sure that is your thing, but the size of the place can be illustrated by this: they are supposed to have 13 Rhinos at the moment, but in two visits we did not see any. We saw spoor of them and of Leopard, and of course saw the Lion pair. Another thing to recommend them for at least part of the trip is the stories we heard about a wild Caracal (or Serval? - my memory might be missing here) that have gotten into a habit of walking near the flock of people doing a morning game walk -- as we did not stay there, we did not experience that.

Rhinos in Kruger seems a very tough thing, their numbers are in free fall due to poaching. In two days, I saw none, and someone else I talked with had seen two: both dead due to poaching.

Cheers
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Old Tuesday 6th March 2012, 04:24   #3
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Pelagics are a highlight of any visit to South Africa, any time of year is fruitful with guaranteed albatross in good numbers, etc.

For cats, Kgalagadi is tops, Cheetah and Lion frequent, Leopard, Wild Cat and Caracal all quite possible on a trip of a few days. Meerkat is here too.

Chameleons are in Cape Town area, one of the pelagic tour companies gets them in their office garden and welcomes visitors (presumably those signing up to a tour even more welcome )

Guides not really required in Kgalagadi or Kruger etc, the info very available as to what is where, so you can just rent a car and thus be as many or as few as you want in the car. From the middle of 2012, a 1% community levy is payable on all national park entrance fees, thus money is now going to the local community.

African Penguins at Boulders as you say, also Robbin Island, but the Boulders colony should give you all you want. Walk a few hundred metres further along the beach, ie away from the breeding colony and to a public bathing beach for the chance of penguins swimming around your legs.

As Niels said, Rhinos are really having it tough - 450 killed in 2011, already 80 in 2012 so far. This degree of loss is completely unsustainable - the only glimmer of hope being that the South African authorities are serious in their attempts to stamp it out, stepping up border security in response, plus making arrests of park guards who were involved too, etc.
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Old Tuesday 6th March 2012, 08:41   #4
Marcus Conway - ebirder
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Thanks Jos - some q's

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Originally Posted by Jos Stratford View Post
Pelagics are a highlight of any visit to South Africa, any time of year is fruitful with guaranteed albatross in good numbers, etc. - thanks any recommendations as to company?

For cats, Kgalagadi is tops, Cheetah and Lion frequent, Leopard, Wild Cat and Caracal all quite possible on a trip of a few days. Meerkat is here too. Is it a simple as turn up and see them?

Chameleons are in Cape Town area, one of the pelagic tour companies gets them in their office garden and welcomes visitors (presumably those signing up to a tour even more welcome ) Sounds cool! - do you know which one

Guides not really required in Kgalagadi or Kruger etc, the info very available as to what is where where from?, so you can just rent a car and thus be as many or as few as you want in the car. From the middle of 2012, a 1% community levy is payable on all national park entrance fees, thus money is now going to the local community. I would still be likely to use a pro guide but this is useful

African Penguins at Boulders as you say, also Robbin Island, but the Boulders colony should give you all you want. Walk a few hundred metres further along the beach, ie away from the breeding colony and to a public bathing beach for the chance of penguins swimming around your legs. always needed an excuse for an underwater camera

As Niels said, Rhinos are really having it tough - 450 killed in 2011, already 80 in 2012 so far. This degree of loss is completely unsustainable - the only glimmer of hope being that the South African authorities are serious in their attempts to stamp it out, stepping up border security in response, plus making arrests of park guards who were involved too, etc.
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Old Tuesday 6th March 2012, 10:39   #5
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Thanks Jos - some q's

Pelagics - any recommendations as to company?

Main two are:

www.capetownpelagics.com
www.zestforbirds.co.za

Both are excellent and I would say probably not much between them, they have online schedules and probably you would choose whichever has the best date for you


Kgalagadi cats. Is it a simple as turn up and see them?

Essentually yes, the road network is not extensive. Though if it is South African holidays, it is worth booking accommodation well in advance (same for Kruger)


Guides not really required in Kgalagadi or Kruger etc, the info very available. where from?

The camps in the national parks have updated boards with sightings posted, plus people tend to wave you if they've seen anything of note. Also go to SAN Parks website, all info on the national parks here, plus an active forum that frequently says what is being seen in the parks.


Chameleons in Cape Town area. Sounds cool! - do you know which one

Cape Town Pelagics I believe.
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Old Tuesday 6th March 2012, 10:41   #6
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Marcus,

Wow, that's a lot of questions and I'm sure you are going to get a pile of different answers here...

First question of course is, what sort of budget do you have? There is a very big difference between going to parks and getting sightings of animals as opposed to going into an area where photography is the prime target and you get positioned perfectly for that. There are many of the more private (and therefore more expensive) reserves that would offer far better opportunities for photography if you told them that was your aim.

You are going to battle to get good photographic opportunities on both Leopard and Cheetah at the same place. As has been mentioned, the Kgalagadi is great for Cheetah (but they are not always close and one is restricted to the roads). If you have lots of spare cash, you could try somewhere like Tswalu Kalahari Reserve where you will be able to get much closer to them and have better photographic ops. This reserve also has Lion, both species of Rhino and a number of the other more common large mammals. It is pricey though, but is undoubtedly the best place in the country, if not on the continent, to see and photograph Aardvark. And, these days, they seem to be getting more regular interactions with Temminck's Pangolin as well. There are, unfortunately, no Leopards here. And Leopard is very tough to pin down in the Kgalagadi.

For Leopard photos, you are probably best placed to try a place like Mashatu, again slightly more expensive than the normal reserves, but MUCH better photo ops. Also, any of the private reserves in the Sabi Sands area should get you good photo ops on Leopard (try a place like Motswari).

Caracal and Serval are going to be very difficult to pin down for photos - it is more a case of lucking into them than anything else.

Hornbills are pretty easy to photograph anywhere in the Lowveld region. Carmine Bee-eaters are around in the Kruger, but photographically speaking, your best bets are further north in the Chobe in Botswana. Many of the sunbirds are garden visitors, so you can do those just about anywhere. Grey Crowned Crane is a bird of grassland areas, so it's unlikely to be in any of the areas which you will be in looking for the other animals.

Chameleons can be tough, but they do occur in gardens. Bear in mind that we have at least 3 species around the Cape area, and only the Cape Dwarf Chameleon will be in gardens in Cape Town itself. Out towards Hermanus, one starts to get into Little Karoo (aka Robertson) Dwarf Chameleon and, on the west coast north of Cape Town, we have Western Dwarf Chameleon.

As to photographing penguins, I think a late afternoon visit to the Stoney Point colony at Betty's Bay is your best bet. You can get reasonably close to them, get down low enough to get decent photography angles (rather than shooting down on to them) and the sun is perfectly placed to be behind you. Boulder's is also best photographed in the afternoon (unless you want to get creative and shoot straight into the sun in the morning), but because of the mountains, you lose the light a lot earlier in the day and don't get that real golden light that you would want for great photos...

Things like African Wild Cat and Meerkat are also good in the Kgalagadi, but you're always limited there in terms of moving around freely. Again, Tswalu would work very well here for both of these species.

Bear in mind that I am making these suggestions purely from a photographic point of view as you will still get to see a lot of wildlife in the normally priced reserves as well - you just won't necessarily get as good photo ops on them.

I won't comment on the pelagic trip issue as that might be considered a little biased...

Ok, enough waffling for now...
Trevor
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Old Tuesday 6th March 2012, 12:40   #7
Marcus Conway - ebirder
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Marcus,

Wow, that's a lot of questions and I'm sure you are going to get a pile of different answers here...

First question of course is, what sort of budget do you have? Around 5K for the safari elements - will cover flights to SA and accommodation/guiding in Cape separately There is a very big difference between going to parks and getting sightings of animals as opposed to going into an area where photography is the prime target and you get positioned perfectly for that. There are many of the more private (and therefore more expensive) reserves that would offer far better opportunities for photography if you told them that was your aim.

You are going to battle to get good photographic opportunities on both Leopard and Cheetah at the same place. As has been mentioned, the Kgalagadi is great for Cheetah (but they are not always close and one is restricted to the roads). If you have lots of spare cash, you could try somewhere like Tswalu Kalahari Reserve where you will be able to get much closer to them and have better photographic ops. This reserve also has Lion, both species of Rhino and a number of the other more common large mammals. It is pricey though, but is undoubtedly the best place in the country, if not on the continent, to see and photograph Aardvark. And, these days, they seem to be getting more regular interactions with Temminck's Pangolin as well. There are, unfortunately, no Leopards here. And Leopard is very tough to pin down in the Kgalagadi.

For Leopard photos, you are probably best placed to try a place like Mashatu, again slightly more expensive than the normal reserves, but MUCH better photo ops. Also, any of the private reserves in the Sabi Sands area should get you good photo ops on Leopard (try a place like Motswari).

Caracal and Serval are going to be very difficult to pin down for photos - it is more a case of lucking into them than anything else. Yep, though at much

Hornbills are pretty easy to photograph anywhere in the Lowveld region. Carmine Bee-eaters are around in the Kruger, but photographically speaking, your best bets are further north in the Chobe in Botswana. Many of the sunbirds are garden visitors, so you can do those just about anywhere. Grey Crowned Crane is a bird of grassland areas, so it's unlikely to be in any of the areas which you will be in looking for the other animals. So Sunbirds possible in the Cape?

Chameleons can be tough, but they do occur in gardens. Bear in mind that we have at least 3 species around the Cape area, and only the Cape Dwarf Chameleon will be in gardens in Cape Town itself. Out towards Hermanus, one starts to get into Little Karoo (aka Robertson) Dwarf Chameleon and, on the west coast north of Cape Town, we have Western Dwarf Chameleon. Ok - is there a (recommended) book for the region?

As to photographing penguins, I think a late afternoon visit to the Stoney Point colony at Betty's Bay is your best bet. You can get reasonably close to them, get down low enough to get decent photography angles (rather than shooting down on to them) and the sun is perfectly placed to be behind you. Boulder's is also best photographed in the afternoon (unless you want to get creative and shoot straight into the sun in the morning), but because of the mountains, you lose the light a lot earlier in the day and don't get that real golden light that you would want for great photos... Top info thanks

Things like African Wild Cat and Meerkat are also good in the Kgalagadi, but you're always limited there in terms of moving around freely. Again, Tswalu would work very well here for both of these species.

Bear in mind that I am making these suggestions purely from a photographic point of view as you will still get to see a lot of wildlife in the normally priced reserves as well - you just won't necessarily get as good photo ops on them. This is exactly what I am after

I won't comment on the pelagic trip issue as that might be considered a little biased...

Ok, enough waffling for now...
Trevor
Thanks for the info - very helpful.
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Old Tuesday 6th March 2012, 12:43   #8
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Marcus,
You should be aware that most camps/lodges offering guided trips use 4x4's with 9-10 seats. Obviously, it is in their interest to fill these seats. You will understand that not everybody in the vehicle has the same agenda - you are looking for photo opportunities, someone else wants to see a particular tree, and another would kill for a pangolin. Each has equal rights, and a good tour guide will do his or her best to please all guests. Higher-end companies such as Wilderness, @Beyond, Abercrombie and Kent, and so on, can arrange for you to have a personally-allocated vehicle and guide, but this comes at a substantial premium. It is therefore vital to have a firm budget in mind before making your plans.
Please realise that wild animals are not operating to any human timetable - they do their own thing, and with the possible exception of some of the small, extremely costly operations along the western boundary of the Kruger National Park, I would never guarantee any wildlife sighting, especially the cats, for whom concealment is a stock in trade. For example, I have lived in Africa since 1963, much of the time in the bush, and have seen a Serval twice and a Caracal perhaps four or five times. I have seen a pangolin once, and a bush pig never - except for a dead youngster on the road.
You have had lots of good advice already, so make you plans, enjoy your trip, and delight in what you do find. Don't let those you miss weigh too heavily upon you.
Keep you queries coming, and we shall do our best to help you.
Best wishes,
Dave
PS I have attached a couple of pics from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park to encourage you.
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Old Tuesday 6th March 2012, 13:00   #9
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a bush pig never
I am surprised by that: I saw two different animals, one of them several days on my visit!

Niels

Edit: my report: http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=216845

Edit 2: I can confirm that sunbirds were relatively easy for most species, I saw 5 species in a limited part of South Africa, and two more in a couple of days by Victoria Falls.
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Old Tuesday 6th March 2012, 18:12   #10
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Thanks guys.

- Dave you have summed why I am not looking for a standard bums on seats trip
- NJL fantastic trip report
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Old Tuesday 6th March 2012, 19:42   #11
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I can't recommend Simon Stobbs highly enough so I won't even try. Check his site and make contact - that's all I can say.

http://www.diverseafrica.co.za/index.html

I will personally refund the cost of your trip if you're not completely satisfied. (Conditions apply )
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Old Wednesday 7th March 2012, 01:18   #12
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- NJL fantastic trip report
Thanks Marcus

Niels
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Old Wednesday 7th March 2012, 06:41   #13
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Hi Marcus, excellent advice here already, so I can't add much. I can say that the following are seen in Kruger on a regular basis provided that you are there for a few days and are prepared to drive out and look. ( Self-drive is usual but you can, for a hefty sum, book a private safari vehicle.)
Cheetah and Leopard my main aims
- secondary targets Lion, Giraffe, Zebra
Secretary bird, Hornbills, Bee Eater (esp Carmine)
- others targets Rhino, Lilac Breasted Roller, Sunbirds.

I can assure you that in spite of the appalling loss of rhino to poaching, they still maintain a very visible presence in the park. It is far more difficult to see black rhino however.

Dave is quite right, no sighting of any species can be certain.

Book early.
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Old Wednesday 7th March 2012, 18:59   #14
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How reliable is self driving? Being a guide myself I can put people on subjects very quickly and close enough to photograph. This has taken years of visiting locations for near -guaranteed results. However, the Scottish Highlands is a different proposition and animals may be harder to find.

On a self drive would I come across animals quickly or would I miss so much it would be frustrating?
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Old Wednesday 7th March 2012, 19:28   #15
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On a self drive would I come across animals quickly or would I miss so much it would be frustrating?
As easy as taking a piddle behind a bush
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Old Wednesday 7th March 2012, 22:37   #16
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How reliable is self driving? Being a guide myself I can put people on subjects very quickly and close enough to photograph. This has taken years of visiting locations for near -guaranteed results. However, the Scottish Highlands is a different proposition and animals may be harder to find.

On a self drive would I come across animals quickly or would I miss so much it would be frustrating?
Finding your own animals while self-driving is the most satisfying thing I know. We set no targets when we go into the bush, so everything we find is a huge delight, and a source of stories round the fire that night. Try not to get frustrated - remember that everything you see is both a privilege and a pleasure.

But just to help you a little bit, go to the South African Forum, page 6, post#126. I posted there some tips to help in locating animals in the bush. You may find it useful.
http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=104790&page=6

Best wishes,
Dave

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Old Wednesday 7th March 2012, 23:36   #17
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But I also will say that experience does help. I have no idea how our guide Johan caught sight of a couple of parrots sitting a bit off to the side in Kruger while also driving at a good speed.

Niels
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Old Thursday 8th March 2012, 11:42   #18
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But I also will say that experience does help. I have no idea how our guide Johan caught sight of a couple of parrots sitting a bit off to the side in Kruger while also driving at a good speed.

Niels
I think the word 'speed' is relevant here! We rarely drive above 30kms/hand usually closer to 20. We don't miss much because we're on the lookout for birds as well as animals. Top speed on tar in KNP is 50kph and on dirt, 40kph. useful if you need to get from A to B but counterproductive if you are hoping to see animals. People are often helpful and will tell you that there is a - lion - 2.5km further on on the LHS (if they don't give the info in bold, ask) set your trip at each junction. Buy a Kruger road map on entry. A private reserve will often give you a better photographic view from a game vehicle because the good ones tend to control the numbers of vehicles at a sighting. This, unfortunately is not the case in Kruger, so you might be frustrated, but we have often had the most wonderful sightings to ourselves. In private reserves as a rule there is no self drive available. You have two game drives per day. am and pm. many reserves will not allow vehicles out in the middle of the day because they try to reduce the impact of vehicles on the animals. ( Not that the photographic light is much good then anyway). In Kruger you can stay out all day if you want to. So there are pros and cons of both. If your sole reason for coming out is to take specific photographs, you may be better off in a private game reserve.
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Old Thursday 8th March 2012, 11:49   #19
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Certainly if you know Kruger, you might have more success in finding certain animals. Some of us may be able to give you advice in this respect if you diecide to go this route, but I suggest that this is done by a PM as the giving out of information as to the presence of certain species is becoming of increasing sensitivity here due to the poaching as you can probably appreciate. You can also have a look on the SANParks website (www.sanparks.org) and go to Interact then to Forums where you can select your subject matter. you will see plenty of photos to show you what is seen and there are dedicated threads for different species. Also descriptions of all camps. If you should decide to include Kruger i can give you further info if you need it.
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Old Thursday 8th March 2012, 16:23   #20
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Is it possible to self drive between different private reserves and then say do a few nights at each?

Nearly everywhere seems to say Leopard is best at Sabi for example
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Old Thursday 8th March 2012, 16:30   #21
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Certainly if you know Kruger, you might have more success in finding certain animals. Some of us may be able to give you advice in this respect if you diecide to go this route, but I suggest that this is done by a PM as the giving out of information as to the presence of certain species is becoming of increasing sensitivity here due to the poaching as you can probably appreciate. You can also have a look on the SANParks website (www.sanparks.org) and go to Interact then to Forums where you can select your subject matter. you will see plenty of photos to show you what is seen and there are dedicated threads for different species. Also descriptions of all camps. If you should decide to include Kruger i can give you further info if you need it.
thanks Sal
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Old Thursday 8th March 2012, 17:42   #22
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Certainly if you know Kruger, you might have more success in finding certain animals. Some of us may be able to give you advice in this respect if you diecide to go this route, but I suggest that this is done by a PM as the giving out of information as to the presence of certain species is becoming of increasing sensitivity here due to the poaching as you can probably appreciate. You can also have a look on the SANParks website (www.sanparks.org) and go to Interact then to Forums where you can select your subject matter. you will see plenty of photos to show you what is seen and there are dedicated threads for different species. Also descriptions of all camps. If you should decide to include Kruger i can give you further info if you need it.
Thanks - having look at the gallery of shame I don't think a self drive is what I am looking.
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Old Thursday 8th March 2012, 18:07   #23
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I take your point. However, we generally find that we don't see those scenes as often as it would appear that they exist. I think, bearing in mind what you are after, you would probably be better served in a private reserve. Yes it is possible to drive from one to another. Yes, you have a very good chance of seeing leopard in Sabi Sands. There are several game lodges here to choose from. You are not permitted to self-drive from any of the lodges. The only thing we did not see there were cheetah, but others have seen them. We had magnificent leopard sightings.
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Old Thursday 8th March 2012, 18:09   #24
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I take your point. However, we generally find that we don't see those scenes as often as it would appear that they exist. I think, bearing in mind what you are after, you would probably be better served in a private reserve. Yes it is possible to drive from one to another. Yes, you have a very good chance of seeing leopard in Sabi Sands. There are several game lodges here to choose from. You are not permitted to self-drive from any of the lodges. The only thing we did not see there were cheetah, but others have seen them. We had magnificent leopard sightings.
Thanks Sal - I appreciate the time taken to respond.

So what you are saying it is possible to drive between lodges on private reserves but not from the lodges on private reserves - so you have to book onto their game drives.
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Old Thursday 8th March 2012, 19:03   #25
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So what you are saying it is possible to drive between lodges on private reserves but not from the lodges on private reserves - so you have to book onto their game drives.
This is correct - you can only drive to the lodge, but not go on game drives yourself. I am not familiar with the private reserves, but I think generally you can not drive from lodge to lodge through the reserves either - you drive to the lodge, stay, then leave and would enter another private reserve through theri entrance. I might be wrong here however.

Note however, it is completely possible to visit parts of even Kruger, the most visited of all RSA parks, without seeing other tourists for periods - particularly if you choose the north for the park and don't go when RSA schools are on holiday. Even more so for Kgaladai, even though the road network here is far more limited. Onthe private reserves, yes they might get you to animals on your own, but you are also tied to however long the game drive is, and you will not be alone. Self driving, you can be out morning to evening, settle yourself at a key spot and just sit and wait, or slowly wander as you want.
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