Victoria Falls River Lodge (Crescent Zambezi)
September / October 2013
Victoria Falls River Lodge (Crescent Zambezi)
09.10.2013 - 09.10.2013 37 °C
We got up early though we did not need to. Our plan was to leave the hotel at 8:30 am for our flight to Zimbabwe. We had a driver secured to take us to the hotel, but there was some confusion. To ensure we got to the airport on time, they loaded us and our luggage into a Porsche SUV and said the driver would be right down. We no sooner loaded our bags and sat in the car when the alarm started to go off. People came running to us to have us get out and even though the drivers window was open no one could figure out how to unlock the doors and get us out. They went to find the driver and get the keys to rescue us from the car. It was quite comical and we are probably the only ones to say "get us out of this Porsche." Our scheduled driver finally showed up and we were on our way.
The last part of the flight into Victoria Falls is extremely turbulent due to all the variety of air types mixing with the extremely hot air pushing up from from the ground creating many air pockets. The rainy season starts in November so everything is very dry. Temp is around 35-37. So we have finally found our warm weather. The queue to obtain a visa and gain access to the country is painful, but buying in advance is more than three time expensive. We were sitting up front of the plane and got in good position but even the flight that took off 25 minutes ahead of us was still being processed. Once processed we then had to wait just as long for the bags to finally be unloaded. All told it was about an hour. Not a model of efficiency and really felt bad for the folks towards the back of the plane. I'm guessing they had another hour ahead of them.
The place we are staying at is new (opened 2011) and right in the park. We were told the national park system has been awarding concessions to open up lodges assist in the decrease of poacher activity. Our room is a very large tent with a bed and couch in one section and a open shower and tub in another section. There is also a shower outside. Unlike Riverbend, there are no fences around the lodge or rooms so the animals are free to roam. After sunset, we need an escort to bring us to the main lodge for dinner. I was thinking that was a little confining and wasn't sure how much I was going to like the policy. That was until we were escorted back to our room after dinner and there were two very large water buffalo next to our tent. I will be quite happy to be escorted.
Before dinner we took a sunset cruse down the Zambezi river in a pontoon boat. Almost felt like home getting to ride in the pontoon boat. Similarities are quickly erased from home as there are no hippo's, crockodile, baboons, bush buck, cormorants or african fish eagles at Big Cedar, all of which were seen on our ride, although it should be noted we did see a bald eagle over the house this year
08.10.2013 - 08.10.2013
Until we return home we will now be on a plane everyday except one. Today our travels are from Durban to Johannesburg. On our way to the Durban airport we encountered quite a lot of traffic. From large trucks to small cars all going varying speeds and driving quite erratically. As we were driving we kept seeing people stopped on the side of the road by official looking individuals with bright vests. We wondered what they were doing until one of them was in front of our car pointing for us to pull over. He checked Troy's license, looked like he was comparing it with the sticker on the car, checked all 4 tires, thanked us and we were on our way again. We couldn't tell if they were looking for something specific or just performing random checks.
Today we fly South African Air to Jo'burg. It is a pretty decent airline and I would definitely fly them again if given the opportunity. Troy and I are staying at the Hilton in Standton, while Randy and Charlotte are at a different hotel. The Hilton hotel is a very nice establishment in the business area.
Dinner was at The Butcher Shop located in a bustling area of the city called Mandella Square. The restaurant had several different sections and shops including an amazing butchery and deli, a very well stocked wine store and several different styles of seating areas. After we were sat we were brought a bowl of bread seasoned well with rosemary and sea salt. This was accompanied by a bowl of really tasty sausage in a sauce. The sausage almost melted in your mouth. We both ordered a rocket salad as a starter and both of us had meat. Troy a T-Bone and I had Springbok. The Springbok was pretty tasty and Troy was tempted to chew on the remains on the bone. Afterward we stopped at the wine shop, then back to the butchery and deli where we ended up buying Droe Wors as it was on the list of foods to try.
07.10.2013 - 07.10.2013 17 °C
Today was scheduled to be water day. Morning in the iSimangaliso preserve and wetland park and then a boat ride through the St. Lucia estuary. The ISimangaliso is a Unesco world heritage site, not on the basis of having most if not all of the big 5 / big 7, but more so due do the 5 unique ecosystems the park encompasses. When we woke up it was raining, but the forecast suggested things would get better as the day progressed.
After breakfast we met with the guide and we were given many choices as to what we wanted to do. The end choice was to wait 1 hour until 9:00 am to see if the rain stopped and it did. We took a game Safari through the wet lands and saw many different types of antelope. Our guide Stacey was very good, although most of us remain suspicious of the hard claims and serious focus on seeing the elusive leopard. We also saw a black rhino and white rhino along with many monkey's. The Safari ran through 40 kilometers of the ISimangaliso park which runs in to Cape Vidal Camp.
Cape Vidal Camo was our stop for swimming, snorkeling and lunch. It is also home to the reported rare, Samango monkey, and more rare still, the golden Samango. We did encounter these rare creatures. Mater of fact, we did not find them all that rare as these monkey's, along with the more common Vervet monkey, were trying to steal our food all throughout lunch. The air temperature was still too cold to swim but we did take off our shoes and roll up our pans for a stroll on the beach and a fairly large coral reef exposed while the tide was out. The Indian Ocean was warm (21-24 C) and we did some tide pool searching. Nothing much there. We also remain unconvinced of whale watching practicality from this location.
After the game park we had a 2 hour boat ride in the estuary. The estuary extends 61-85 kilometers starting in St. Lucia on the coast extending throughout the ISimangaliso. The distance in length is reported differently depending in whether you count the impact of a 17 year drought that has shortened the length of the waterway by approximatley 24 kilometers. Technically this is no longer an estuary as it has been closed off from the Indian Ocean for nine years and much of the water here is converting from saltwater to freshwater. This is also the reason the estuary is shrinking as the only remaining source for replenishing the waterway is storm runoff.
That aside the estuary remains a beautiful preserve. The Mangrove forest was quite impressive and our guide suggested it is the second largest in the world, the largest being in Australia. We saw many hippo and snapped a lot of decent pictures. We also saw a Nile Crockodile, but they are becoming more and more elusive as the newly formed grassy area that thrives off the new fresh water ecosystem provides them plenty of cover to hide. The estuary is also home to the bull shark. We did not see any of these and wondered about the future existence of these predators what with the estuary now being cut off from the ocean. The bull sharks would also go off to the ocean to breed then return to the estuary to birth their pups. The guide did say the sharks still present were trapped here now that access to the ocean is no longer possible. We failed to ask why the estuary was cut off from the ocean. Perhaps significant relief from the sustained drought will return open access to the ocean.
As we returned from our trip it started to drizzle, but not enough to ruin anything. In the way back to the dock you can get a glimpse of the second largest sand dune in the world. This dune lies south of St. Lucia and you would swear it was a mountain. Earlier in our game Safari we saw many large dunes that ones would also mistake for large hillsides. The largest sand dune in the world is on the coast of Australia. After our ride we had to return to our lodge promptly as dinner was already in preparation at the place we were staying. We had some really nice ox tail with potatoes and veggies. We also said goodbye to our last Rust en Verde wine. It was nice to finish dinner around 8:00 rather than first sitting down to dinner at that time.