Tuesday, March 15, 2016

South African Wine Safari with VM Travel Adventures

November is Spring in South Africa!!!

VM Travel Adventures' very first South African Wine Safari kicked off in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa.  Our tour route would take us westbound along the Western Cape of Africa's southernmost continent ending in Cape Town with a climb up Table Mountain!

The Radchenko "birding team" and 7 other family members were picked up in George and subsequently whisked around in the van on the wrong side of the road for two weeks.

Rory and Natascha collaborated with Rory's family to provide a wonderful family visit of which the highlights were a beach braai BBQ with home cooked ingredients from Lederle's Bakery.  We did some fishing and some kayaking, enjoyed sundowners after rocky hikes on the peninsula.  Plettenberg Bay is a magical place offering the tourist the utmost holiday of adventure, animals and jungled forests.  Within these forests we got to swing from the tall canopies trying to catch a glimpse of a vervet monkey or a Knysna Lourie, a green curious fellow that warns you of danger.  We walked with the elephants in the sanctuary and learned all about their wildlife habits....  Sherry could not resit a ride on these majestic and endangered giants.... a once in a lifetime event! 

Once we were comfortable with the animals, monkeys and birds, we swiftly jumped out of our comfort zone with the Worlds' Tallest Bugee off of the Bloukrans Brige.  219 metres of Bungee and some fancy flying with Rory's drone made Myles' jump sensational!!

It seemed that the wonderful flavours of Africa followed us everywhere.... the wines we focused on were the non-chocolatey Pinotages along with the Chenin Blancs, both flagship wines of South Africa.  We tried a handful of different wild game flavours, Zebra, Ostrich, Kudu and Gemsbok.  Each and every restaurant had outstanding service and a complete wine list!  Some favourites included Cape Malay Curry, chicken livers, fresh fish and chips and peri-peri spice, of course!

The Garden Route Game Lodge gave us a good view of the BIG 5 up close and personally with our eccentric guide, Wessel.  He was passionate about the animals, and sadly predicts that there will be NO rhinos left in South Africa in a matter of 6 years.  SAVE THE RHINO!

The game lodge was an educational experience and the reptiles were much adored by all!  Next, we were whisked off to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa!  Peta hosted us in Saandbai, where the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet.  Myles collected shells and other crustaceans while we enjoyed walk on the beach some down time.   A sneaky back road to the Elim wine region had us off-roading with the locals and we caught a glimpse of a Secretary Bird and several Blue Cranes.

And the wine tour begins!  A charcuterie and wine tasting lunch at the Black Oystercatcher was our second stop in a long list of wineries we were about to visit....  Zain toured us through the Glen Carlou Winery and we set off for cheese and wine - and cheese - and wine at Fairview, where "goats do roam"!

The adorable metre was off the charts when we visited the penguins in Betty's Bay, and we kept our eyes peeled for the Southern Right Whale alone the Atlantic coast as we approached Paarl and Cape Town.   We partook in the Wellington Wine Walk, trekking 9 KMS though 4 vineyards and 'fynbos' interspersed by wine tasting and lunch!  Our host Vanessa at Ridgeback winery kept us busy in the region, visiting Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franshoek.  The highlight of this town was the market and the Cellarmaster's tasting and tour at Haute Carbriere...... the wine just kept on flowing and the giggles in the room crescendoed!

In Cape Town we saw all of the beaches, Hout Bay, Camp's Bay and Llandudno.  We even took a boat ride from the V & A Waterfront to Robben Island, the prison of Nelson Mandela, his having spent 18 years here in his 27 years of incarceration.   Madiba's memory lives on everywhere in Africa.  

Thanks so much to the family members and friends of VM Travel Adventures.  It was a pleasure to travel with such a fun group and the fun never stopped!  The biology and birding lessons made it an educational experience!

We plan on going back to Africa for more exquisite accommodation, gourmet cuisine and stunning beaches!  Until then we can enjoy our 'sundowners' and dream of our return to the Msanzi 'south' of Africa!  
Tot-Zins and until next time!!!

Life is too short not to have this much fun!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Botswana's: Sundowners in the Okavango Delta


Nine adventuresome travellers decided to extend their South African Wine Safari with a week in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Botswana has all the animals.  Their tough stance on poaching means that tourists get to see most of the animals that move through the delta, depending on rainfall and the season.  To the north, Namibia's rainfall and runoff comes into the Okavango panhandle, creating the swampy reed land that we got to discover by safari jeep, boat, mokoro canoe and on foot.

Our tight knit group had just finished wine touring in South Africa and we were ready for our next adventure.  After an early departure from Cape Town and a short layover in Johannesburg, we found ourselves in Maun, Botswana.  After being greeting by Harmony from Ker & Downey Camps, we shed some weight, packed a light suitcase and we were taking to the skies again.  After all, you don't need much but light safari clothing as the camps provided absolutely everything you could think of.

Our airplanes just kept getting smaller that day as we boarded the Cessna plane with 8 seats.  From the skies we could see rain falling in the distance, and lightning touching the Kalahari desert floor.  Elephants and Hippos were running around looking like tiny but lumbering creatures running in herds.

The small and bumpy plane ride had us fascinated...but wait!??  Where is Adrienne?  We discovered that she hopped up on the plane departing before us and we found her waiting there for us on the sand airstrip at Kanana Camp for us.

We embarked on Safari first thing.  No time to waste when you are looking for the elusive animals and BIRDS of the Kalahari. On our way into camp we saw Impala with hundreds of babies, baboons, Vervet monkeys and...our most beautifully coloured creature, the Lilac breasted Roller.

Myles and Phyllis had honed the skill of snapping up the binocs anytime we saw a little -bird- a- fluttering.  With three bird books going, and our awesome rangers's assistance, they managed to collect another 100+ 'lifers' or first time birds personally identified in Botswana alone.

But we didn't just look at birds...!  We were busy every day with a new adventure.  The superb camp hosts kept throwing surprises into any given day of Safari.  One day they set up lunch at the Crocodile pool, the next day we went out on the boats do do a little 'cat'-fishing.  The guides and hosts understood that our fun-loving group had an affiliation for Gin & Tonics and they never hesitated to make us few at sundowner hour.  Under the pink skies, our sundowners were always a special time.  We could see the evening set in, the birds come back to the water to gather and catch fish and the jackals waiting on the bank not far away....

Our dear friends at the Kanana camp will be missed. They shared their singing and dancing with us and it made us shed a tear, we felt so welcomed.  We even tried to learn a little bit of Setswana with our guides Simon and Doctor, who is so called due to his name Naka Emmang or "who is the doctor?" in his native tongue.  We promised to return one day to Kanana to check up on our chameleon in the bush next to tent 4 and the elephants and hippos that pass by in the dark of night, just catching a snack outside your window.

Another cessna flight had us change camps to land at the Xaxanaka airstrip to visit the Okuti Camp. Okuti was very different and quite a bit further north than Kanana and Maun.  There were fires just north of the camp and we were slightly concerned, only to be put at ease by our hosts. These fires start spontaneously due to the 40ÂșC heat, and then are put out on their own by a nearby waterway, but help was at hand should the fires have picked up.

Chachos and Solomon looked after us while we got to know Monnie and Toffee in the kitchen at camp.  Everyone sits together during meals so we can compare notes about what we saw.  We made new friends and even taught them how to fly a drone! Thanks for sharing your knowledge Rory!

What was a typical day like you might ask?

 5:30 am wake-up in your tent with coffee or tea brought to you.

6AM: Abundant breakfast and departure immediately after on the safari trucks.

More food at 10 during coffee break and then a big lunch at 12:00.  Siesta time until 3:30 when we hopped back in the trucks to discover more amazing Okavango animals!

Sunset had us drinking Gin & Tonic and then we continued with night safari on the way back to camp for dinner.  UF!  Long days of being exposed to such new things is tiresome but you go to bed feeling so fulfilled!

What was our most interesting animal observed?  Probably the female leopard who had a kill.  She hid the baby impala (which are abundant due to the start of the rains) in the long grass, as if she was hiding it from us.  She pulled it out of the grass right in front of us to move her prize to another location and we found her digesting up a tree the next day.  I never thought I would see a leopard!! Sadly, all of the pictures of her were taken by Rory, the professional filmmaker.... ( I was frozen in awe watching her...)

After the busy six day adventure we it was time to go home.  We said more goodbyes with more singing and pictures.  We returned from camp life changed Canadians, with an appreciation for desert heat, delta water and the kind, hard working crew at the Ker & Downey Camps.  Incredible trip of a lifetime.