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Baby elephant attempting to give mama some water

Baby Elephant attempting to give Mama a drink from the riverbed. The water level is high so the elephants don’t have to dig too deep to get fresh water.

A little over six weeks ago, we drove out of Umlani Bush Camp and made our way back to Johannesburg. We had a plane heading for London to catch the next day. Not going to lie, both my daughter and I had a tear in our eye as we left the magical Timbavati Private Reserve. This safari was everything I dreamed it would be but I was also sad/angry that a lot of the animals are at risk from poachers. Thankfully, there are those willing to fight against them but it seems like a losing battle sometimes. As with drugs, the demand for animal parts needs to be stopped but oh, what a complicated weave that is.

There were so many wonderful memories from our nine days there and below is a recap in photos. My heart is happy when I look at them…

Bird Colorful

The lilac-breasted roller in South Africa.

Monkey with blue balls

Vervet Monkey, males are known for their bright blue scrotum and vivid red penis. They have a complicated vocal communication system. For example, one screech will indicate a predatory bird and all the vervets will scan the sky. Likewise, a snake call will have all looking at the ground. 

Steenbok running

The Steenbok is a small, brown antelope. Females don’t have horns. They zig-zag as they run when avoiding a predator.

Giraffes three

Always a thrill to see Giraffes ~ they are such interesting creatures. Where there are giraffes, there are usually zebras. And like the zebra stripes, the brown and white pattern on the giraffe is unique to each individual. These are males because their stumps are bald. The females are tufts.

Sunset in The Timbavati

Sunset in South Africa

If you’d like to see additional safari photos, follow along on instagram @beachbums88

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Of all the animals we saw on safari, the leopard was the most beautiful and my favorite to watch prowl. They are graceful creatures, with stunningly intense gazes. Their eyes are amazing to watch as they stare at either food or foe.

Leopards prefer hiding in the bush and are so stealth, we considered ourselves very lucky to have experienced seven different leopard sightings during our nine-day stay in the Timbavati. On our first early morning drive, Cabinet, the Umlani tracker, pointed to a female leopard hiding in a bushy area staring intently in one direction:

leopard bloody whiskers.JPG

She still had blood on her long beautiful whiskers which indicated a fresh kill. As we drove around the corner to see if we could get a better view of her, we saw what held her impenetrable gaze:

Hyena eating the leopards kill

Hyena One Blind Eye II

A one-eye blind hyena was munching away on her recently killed impala. She was waiting to see if she could steal it back. Michael, our Wildeye Photographic guide, explained that hyenas are much stronger than the leopard, higher on the food chain and frequently steal their kills. Leopards attempt to get their meals into a tree and out of the reach of hyenas but this hyena was too quick for her.

As we watched the Hyena and Leopard, our Umlani guide said “Look, Ellies” ~ we turned around to see a large herd of elephants moving up to the waterhole. I was astounded that this was what we were witnessing on our first morning out. Absolutely amazing!!

Elephants at the waterhole

All creatures in the bush give a respectful wide berth to the elephants. No one wants to be on the receiving end of a elephant tusk or foot. As the herd came in, the leopard watched closely to see if the hyena would scurry away but unfortunately for her, he confronted her. She’s a little hard to see in the following video but look to the left ~ she’s snarling in the bush.  Her growl was enough to get the hyena to leave her alone

Any leopard sighting is thrilling because they are so secretive and prefer to stay undercover.

Our last morning drive we saw the same beautiful female leopard with a recently-killed grey duiker. We came full circle with her and I was pleased she finally got to eat the meal she caught.

Leopard with bloody nose

Female leopard with bloodied nose from eating a grey duiker

Leopard looking at the camera

 

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The term Big Five was originally coined by big game hunters but is now used by  those wanting to see and photograph the following in South Africa: Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros and Cape Buffalo.

I went on safari without expectations of “must see” animals. But our guides were invaluable in finding us the Big Five within the first two days of our nine day safari. Michael from Wildeye, SA not only told us about animal behavior but could predict when they would get up, yawn, walk by us, etc. It helped a lot in capturing the animal’s behaviors. Always good to have a few seconds warning to get the camera ready when there might be only one chance to snap a photo.

A male leopard was the first of the Big Five we saw on our first drive out in the bush. Back at camp, before we started on the drive, some of the guests mentioned they had been waiting days for a leopard sighting. Guests on different vehicles would compare notes as to which animals had been spotted ~ reminded me of Apres Ski talk around the fire when skiers would brag about double-black diamonds & vertical feet. Except at Umlani. talk around the firepit is all about the animals!

We are all so excited when Shadrack pointed and said “leopard” ~

leopard at night ii

The rest of the Big Five were spotted numerous times over our nine day stay.

I’ve had some people question why I would spend the money traveling to a far-away country to see animals I can view at the zoo. Those are people who don’t know me well. I cry at zoos so I don’t go. The chance to view animals in their natural environment was priceless for me. The multiple sightings were fascinating because the behaviors changed each time. My idea of heaven on earth.

Here are some of our sightings of other Big Five:

Rhino large male

Lion eyes

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As we drove through the gates into the Private Reserve, I had to pinch myself ~ it was the start of a safari trip I’d been planning for several months, and had been dreaming about for years!

Our driver asked what animal we were most interested in seeing during our nine day visit and my daughter immediately said “Giraffe.”  No sooner had she said giraffe, we came around the corner and there was one munching on some leaves.  It was a fabulous way to begin our wildlife adventures.

Giraffe over the trees

We arrived at Umlani Bushcamp and were greeted by Michael Laubscher from Wildeye .

Umlani Patti, Logan and Michael at lunch

He would be our photographic guide for the entire time we were at our Africa lodge. Unfortunately, I broke my wrist two weeks prior to going on safari, but both my husband and daughter jumped in with both feet (or should I say “with both hands”) and learned as much as they could about photography from Michael. We didn’t keep track of who took which photos so all photos will be considered “Team Beachbums.”

I’m so glad we chose to go with a Wildeye private- guided safari. I knew personalities would be important and was relieved to find that Michael’s easy-going but professional style was perfect for us. Michael was a safari guide for many years before becoming a photographic guide and his ability to anticipate what an animal would do next was invaluable to getting the perfect photo.

The Bush Camp provided a private guide/driver (Shadrack) and tracker (Cabinet) for the duration of our stay. They were both incredible and I’m still amazed how they were able to see small creatures, sometimes at night, while riding in a vehicle and the animal blending in with their surroundings. Truly amazing.

It was so nice to have a private vehicle so we could spend as much time as we wanted at a sighting rather than being in a vehicle with others who preferred to chase the next Big 5 animal sighting.

The camp we stayed at blends in with the environment and was made from natural materials in a traditional African style. There is no electricity in the thatched rooms but there are solar lights which are placed on the nightstands. All accommodations have en-suite facilities including their open-air bush showers. There is also complimentary bottled water. The outdoor bathroom took a little getting use to but it was nice to shower under the warmth of the sun.

The very first animal we saw on safari was a Jackal. Beautiful but quick…

Jackel

…and then we saw our first of seven Leopard sightings. More on that next time.

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I’M GOING ON A SAFARI!!!!

A little over a year or so ago, I read about Gerry Van der Walt from Wild Eye Photo Safaris as being the one to watch on Periscope for wildlife. I started watching him on safari tours and it was amazing to see the lions, hippos, elephants, rhinos, big cats, etc ~ and all of it was live. But I became “hooked” when I switched over to Snapchat which is my preferred forum for seeing all the wildlife updates. Gerry posted lots of the baby animals. Seriously, what’s cuter than those amazing strong animals as tiny (and not so tiny) babies. Cue: Heart Melting!!

Gerry and the rest of the Wild Eye team are very consistent with updating their social media, so much so that when Gerry went quiet for a few days ~ I became worried something happened on one of the safaris. Those animals do get close to the vehicles. Turns out, I missed the snap where he said he was going somewhere without wifi and he would be off-line.

The photos and snap stories are so amazing and I shared many of them with my husband and daughter. Through Gerry’s instagram account, I found a youth photographer, David whose award-winning photo is now on exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History’s Nature’s Best Photography Exhibit.  If you’re in Washington, DC and have an interest in wildlife/photography, I highly recommend seeing the exhibit. The “Leopards” photo was taken while David was on a safari in the Timbavati Private Reserve.

photo-young-boy-with-winning-youth-photo

Youth Photographer viewing “Youth Photographer” winners at the Museum of Natural History

I’ve dreamed about going on a safari ever since those Wild Kingdom TV shows back in the day. Whenever my husband and I discussed going, it always came down to time and money. Mostly money. It seemed out of our reach. And I’m not a fan of being on tour groups where I’m required to be around a lot of people and on their schedule. I was overwhelmed with the logistics, money and basic planning. I didn’t want to go on a trip of a lifetime and not enjoy it because I didn’t know what or where to go. It seemed too daunting to tackle.

Things changed this past fall when one day Gerry asked on Snapchat “What’s keeping YOU from going on a safari?” My first thought was “the logistics” and secondly, I thought about the cost. It must be common to everyone because he immediately addressed how Wild Eye can organize a tour based on a budget provided by the guest.

I took a chance and emailed my per-person budget along with possible dates. Gerry wrote back within hours and asked pertinent questions about my preferences: which were the top animals I wanted to see, luxury v. eco-lodge, and did I prefer to be with other people or on a private guide. A few days later, Gerry recommended we go on a privately guided safari in the Timbavati Private Preserve in South Africa with Michael from Wild-Eye. Having already seen David’s (youth photographer) great photos from Timbavati, I was sold.

Timbavati borders Kruger National Park and, because there are no fences, the animals go back and forth between the park and the preserve. Bottom line, we wouldn’t be going on this trip if I hadn’t stumbled onto Wild Eye through periscope. They’ve made it too easy to plan such a fabulous adventure.

More on the details of planning in my next post but if you want to follow Wild Eye to see their fabulous wildlife images, you have your pick of social media outlets:

  • Gerry (Wild Eye founder) is on Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat as: Gerryvanderwalt
  • Gerry’s The Wildlife Photography Podcast is on Itunes/Soundcloud
  • Our guide is on Instagram and Snapchat as: Michael.Laubscher
  • For additional info on Wild Eye click here

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A Big Island adventure not to be missed is going to the 13,796 foot Mauna Kea Summit which at night offers the clearest and most awe-inspiring views of the night skies to rival any on Earth. I spent a lot of my time at the summit looking around and thinking “what a fantastic world we live in and I wish everyone could participate in this experience.”

Mauna Kea Summit View from the top of the summit

It’s not required to go with a tour group to the summit but because we didn’t rent a 4-wheel drive (required for the top part of the mountain), we decided to join a tour. We were very pleased with the knowledge and friendliness of our tour guide/driver from Hawaii Forest and Trail . The trip lasts anywhere from 7-8 hours ~ depending on weather conditions and travel time. Our trip was right around 7 hours.

Mauna Kea Sheep Station Logan III

Abandoned Humuula Sheep Station

A picnic dinner is served at the historic (abandoned) Humuula sheep station located at 7,000 feet (half way up the mountain) and allows people to acclimate to the higher elevation. Some people were affected and others not at all. Thankfully, we were in the not at all category.

Throughout the tour, our guide provided a lot of historic and cultural information. Because the temperatures and winds make it downright winter-like at the top, the tour company provides winter jackets.

Mauna Kea John Patti and Logan III

Thank goodness for the jackets provided by the tour company ~ definitely needed.

It was very interesting to be standing amongst the world’s largest collection of research telescopes.

The large dish-shaped structure is one of 10 very long Baseline Array radio telescopes that are spread out across the United States and used simultaneously. Astronomers use the telescope to make detailed studies of space objects. Each antenna is controlled remotely by the Array Operations Center in Socorro, New Mexico, but there are local site technicians at the Mauna Kea summit.

Mauna Kea Summit Sacred Hawaiian site at the top of Mauna Kea

Most sacred part of Mauna Kea and off limits to visitors

The Hawaiians consider the mountain to be one the most sacred places in the islands and it is not without controversy that it is used commercially. There is an area of the mountain which is off-limits and I’m glad most people respect it.

Mauna Kea Sun Setting

A highlight was the spectacular sunset which looked like other-wordly to me especially when the sun was low and in the clouds far below us.

Mauna Kea Summit sunset 25

On the way down the mountain, we stopped at 9,000 feet for delicious hot chocolate and star-gazing and then we stopped at the visitor’s center for a bathroom break and a little shopping in the gift shop. Photos of stargazing will follow in a future post.

Before you attempt traveling to the summit, here are a few precautions: guests should be able to hike on uneven, rocky, wet, and sometimes muddy terrain. Because of high altitude, I would caution anyone who has respiratory, circulatory and /or heart conditions, pregnancy or generally in poor health. Scuba divers shouldn’t make the ascent within 48 hours of diving. Children under 16 are not allowed on the tour. Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes, long pants and a sweatshirt/sweater. Dressing in layers is best.

Interesting Facts  about Mauna Kea:

  • It is estimated to be approximately one million years old
  • Last eruption was about 4,000 years ago
  • It is a dormant volcano but could still erupt
  • The area of Mauna Kea takes up about 28.8% of the island
  • Mauna Kea means White Mountain
  • Snow falls on both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa

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Mau’umae Beach is my favorite on the Big Island (Hawaii). It’s secluded, sandy, and I can usually have it all to myself on a weekday if I get there early enough. The water is almost always calm so it’s a great place to snorkel. If you happen to be there during the winter months, keep a lookout for whales or dolphins just offshore.

Getting to Mau’umae Beach requires a short hike from Spencer Park or you can drive from the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. If you’re coming from Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, you will need to get an access pass from the guard shack and they only give out 10 passes per day so go early. Once you have your pass, follow the road for approximately 300 yards and take the second right turn. Continue across two small wooden bridges until you arrive at the unpaved parking area above the beach. The trail down to Mau’umae Beach is marked by a sign.

From Spencer Park, park at the far left side of the parking lot and take the coastal path for about a quarter mile. Fishing is popular along the hike and the views of Mauna Loa are spectacular!

Mau'umae Beach hike ~ Ala Kahakai Trail Fisherman and mauna loa

Along the trail to Mau’umae Beach, woman fishing and Mauna Loa in the background.

If you’re on the Big Island, I highly recommend you visit this small, secluded and beautiful beach.

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