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The Travel Butlers Blog

Tipilikwani – Difficult to Pronounce, but so very Difficult to Leave

TraceyCampbell - October 27, 2015

I have just recently returned from 4 wonderful days in the Masai Mara, courtesy of Atua Enkop Africa. There is so much to say about the trip, although it was only for 4 days, that I am going to break the story down into different blog posts.

I am going to start my Marvellous Mara blog series with reports on where I stayed. First up – Tipilikwani. If you break the word down, it is actually quite easy to pronounce – Te-pil-ik-wani!

We arrived into the Mara on a Sunday morning straight off the Kenya Airways flight that lands at Jomo Kenyatta at 0630. Because it was Sunday, there was, for once, no traffic on the normally busy roads of Nairobi, so we got to Wilson Airport in record time! We boarded our Air Kenya flight and set off to the Mara, bouncing through the air on the thermal currents – well, I bounced in time with the small plane, but my stomach was left behind a few times, I must admit.

We landed smoothly and our group was met by 2 wonderful guides – Dee and Jonathan. Off we set on the short drive to camp (or rather, it would have been short had we not encountered a cheetah on the way, with 2 dinky little cubs – so OF COURSE we had to sit and watch them for a while!).

Tipilikwani is located on the northern border of the Masai Mara, right on the Talek River and not too far from the Talek Gate, so if you are driving down from Nairobi, it is ideally placed. When you arrive, you cross a small bridge, and head towards Reception, where you are greeted with a much needed face cloth to wipe away the Mara dust, a gorgeous welcome drink, and a huge friendly smile from the management staff.

My tent was large to say the least – 2 double beds just for little me, a writing desk, a huge en-suite bathroom with 2 basins, a flushing toilet and a walk-in shower – none of this bucket shower melarkey either, it was hot running water at the turn of a tap! Outside I had my own private wooden deck – the perfect setting for the massage table to be set up on when I eventually got a spare couple of hours to myself.

The camp itself is what I would call ‘authentically rustic’ – the main dining/lounge and bar area is dark wood with open sides – for me, it just said ‘you are on safari’ immediately you walked in. There are no frills here, just a good, honest, down to earth safari experience. And great food too – lunch was a 3 course affair, so was dinner – with choices galore. You do not go hungry here, I can tell you!

Being near the gate does mean that it is near a village, so at night, you have the true safari sounds of lion roaring and hyena calling – which in turn set off the village dogs who then bark, who in turn disturb the cattle owned by the local Masai who live in the village. So it is a combination of comforting ‘home’ noises (my cat does like to annoy next door’s yappy little terrier so the sound of a dog barking was just like lying in my own bed at home) combined with exciting ‘safari’ noises.

The area around Tipikikwani is renowed for its high hyena population, so if you are a hyena fanatic, this really is the place to go! We did see quite a lot out on game drives, and we were also fortunate enough to meet 2 hyena research students who are studying in the area for a year – who ‘introduced’ us by name to the local hyenas from a huge file of photos that they have compiled over the months – they are so passionate about their work and it was lovely to hear their stories.

As well as hyena, on our game drives, we saw absolutely loads – lion, cheetah, zebra, rhino, giraffe, warthog, buffalo, leopard, elephant, vultures, impala, gazelles… it was a never-ending stream of wildlife just presenting itself to us. And we were only here for 2 nights – so 4 game drives in total. All you could hear at times was the constant click click click of cameras going off simultaneously. It was a wildlife photographers dream. But that is the Masai Mara…mmm, I wonder why it is one of the most popular safari destinations in Africa!!

My 5 highlights of my short stay here were sitting watching a leopard mum interact with her cub, heading out at 4 am to see the supermoon and the eclipse, dinner in the bush on our 2nd night (all beautifully lit with lanterns), finding a lovely family group of elephants, and going on a sunrise hot air balloon trip.

Was I sorry to leave? Yes I was. It felt like home the minute you arrived, and it was difficult to say goodbye. Little did I know at the time that my next stop was going to leave an even bigger impression… more on that later…

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MalaMala – Exclusively Yours

TraceyCampbell - November 26, 2014

MalaMala – synonymous with the bygone era of romantic safaris, Hollywood superstars and exclusive game viewing. Celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, in 1964 the MalaMala land was sold to Michael Rattray who since then has grown the brand to be one of the most famous in the world of safari goers, and who was truly the pioneer of the photographic safari experience that we know and love today.

‘Mala Mala – it’s all about the wildlife’ is their new strapline, and anyone who has been fortunate to go on safari here will, I am sure, 100% endorse this. The privately owned MalaMala Game Reserve forms part of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, and covers an immense 13,500 hectares of land.  The eastern boundary is the Kruger National Park – a stretch of 12 miles of uninterrupted, pristine bush with no physical fences, allowing the wildlife to freely cross the ‘invisible’ border between the National Park and the private game reserve. To the west, the Sand River flows unhindered through the land, offering the wildlife a plentiful supply of water at all times, expecially during the dry winter months of May to September.  Is it any wonder that the game viewing here is, one could say, absolutely fantastic all year round.

Because only the game vehicles from MalaMala’s three camps – Main Camp, Sable Camp and the exclusive Rattrays on MalaMala – are allowed to drive on the land, the game viewing experience for guests is really personal and intimate, and completely unhurried.  In 2013, the game viewing statistics were simply amazing – sightings of the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant) were recorded on all but 66 days!  Just to put this into slight more context:

  • Leopards were viewed on all but 20 days, and out of thse sightings, 2 or more leopards were viewed on all but 4 days.
  • Buffalo were seen on all but 8 days, and herds exceeding 100 were viewed on 154 days.
  • Lions were viewed on 308 days, and the most lions seen in a single day were 30 in 4 different sightings – in total, there are 9 resident prides that are regularly seen at MalaMala.
  • Elephant were seen on all but 10 days, and the average number of elephant sightings per week exceeded 20.

Due to the vulnerability of rhino and the current poaching problems, no statistics of rhino sightings are now released.

With the opening of the new Skukuza airstrip, it has never been easier to get to MalaMala.  Direct daily flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg with SA Airlink land at Skukuza, and it is a mere 45 minute (to an  hour) game drive from here to the camp. Alternatively, FedAir also fly directly from Johannesburg to the MalaMala Airstrip, which is only a 5 minute drive to your camp.

Families are welcome at MalaMala Main Camp, and their Junior Ranger programme continues to be a great success with the little ones.  While the parents relax, the rangers will take the children off with their special MalaMala backpack to identify animal spoor, learn about the plants and how to clean your teeth if you are ever lost in the bush, go bird watching, have a go at communicating over the radio as if they were a real ranger, and a myriad of other activities designed to educate as well as entertain.  At the end of their stay, children leave with their very own Ranger Certificate – something unique for the obligatory ‘what did you do in your holidays’ show-and-tell sessions when they return to school!

Whether you are travelling as a family, a couple or in a group (in which case, don’t forget that Sable Camp can be taken on an exclusive basis for groups of between 10-18 guests), we are sure that you will have a fantastic safari experience at MalaMala.

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A Mothers Love

TraceyCampbell - October 21, 2013

I watched Marley and Me last night (again), and unashamedly sobbed my heart out (again). Even my husband had a little tear in his eye.

It got me thinking about just how strong the bond is between a pet and their owner, and then that led me onto how strong the bond is between a parent and a child.  Even in the animal world, the bond is strong between a mother and their young.  True, there are some animals who just abandon their young as soon as they are born, but these species are few and far between.

We witnessed a great display of motherly love a few year ago whilst on safari in Sabi Sand, when a pride of 12  lion took down a young buffalo, and the mother came back to defend it.  Single handedly she fought the lions off her baby, and then when the rest of the herd saw that she was putting up such a fight, they all came back too.  12 lion versus 150 buffalo – not surprisingly, the buffalo won the battle, and the lions were chased off into the bush to recover.  And boy, did the 4 of us in our game vehicle cheer and clap when we saw the baby buffalo shakily get up and follow his mother closely as she led him away.  Getting all misty eyed again now just remembering it…

So just to round off this short blog, I did a quick trawl of some of my favourite images of mother/young love.  I hope you like them as much as I do.

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Fenced or Not Fenced – that is the question

TraceyCampbell - October 16, 2013

A very common phrase that you will see when you are searching for your South African safari is the term ‘fenced reserve’.

But what exactly does this mean? For those not in the travel industry, it may seem like an extra word that has just been added to the description of the reserve, to fill out the page.  Surely everywhere has to have a fence somewhere?

Technically, yes, in South Africa every game reserve or National Park does have a fence, even Kruger and it’s neighbouring private reserves.  Somewhere along the border, there will be a fenceline that will act as a deterent to the wildlife, to stop them leaving the safe sanctuary of the reserve/Park and wandering off to visit local villages.

However, in Kruger, you are talking of an area that covers over 2 million hectares (for those reading this in the UK that is about the size of Wales (minus the sheep); for those in the States this is somewhere between the size of Conneticut and New Jersey; and for those in the rest of Europe, it is about the size of Slovenia).  So the chances of spending your entire game drive looking at a fence is fairly low, as with so much land to cover why would you?

Fenced reserves is a term therefore that is used for smaller reserves, and that is where it does actually have some significance.

For example, in the Eastern Cape, all the reserves are fenced, and in the Kruger area, you have a couple of fenced reserves, such as Kapama and Thornybush.  This is because these reserves are all independently owned, so therefore the owners have to firstly differentiate their land from their neighbours, but more importantly, they have to keep their wildlife on their land too!  As a land/reserve owner, you certainly do not want your larger game such as elephant, rhino or lions wandering off to visit another reserve, so that your guests who pay to stay at your reserve don’t get to see them!  How annoying would that be!  Equally, you don’t want your pride of lions deciding to go for a wander through the local village!

Fenced reserves tend to range vastly in size – anything from 1,500 hectares up to 25,000 hectares and upwards.  Obviously, the larger the reserve, the more wildlife the area can sustain, but this will be reflected in the rates charged.

Larger reserves can also play ‘home’ to more predators, as they equally have the space to keep the plains game and buffalo that the predators will naturally hunt for food.  Get the balance between predators and their ‘food’ incorrect and you will have a reserve full of hungry lions and no buffalo!

I have spent many a happy game drive in a fenced reserve, and to be honest, I have had some wonderful game drives and game viewing experiences.  As long as you go to a fenced reserve knowing that you will not see a herd of a million wildebeest wandering across in front of your game vehicle, or expect to see 20 different prides of lions, then there really is no reason not to have a great safari experience in a fenced reserve.

A Mothers Love and Devotion

TraceyCampbell - October 2, 2012

A few years ago, I was on safari in Sabi Sands, staying at Savanna Private Game Reserve.

On the way back to the lodge one early evening, we saw a herd of about 40 buffalo, with several young.  2 minutes later, we caught sight of the pride of lions, sitting up in the long grass, with their eyes fixed on the herd.  Downwind of the buffalo, the herd had no idea of the impending danger.

Our ranger took the decision that the lion were not going to make any moves, not until it was completely dark.  We all returned to the lodge for dinner, but immediately after dinner, the offer was put to the guest ‘Who wants to go out again to watch the impending chase and kill?’

I couldn’t understand why it was just myself and my husband who jumped at the chance, I think maybe the phrase ‘kill’ put the other guests off.

2 Land Rovers set off about 10 pm – myself, my husband Paul and our ranger Andrew in one, and the other ranger Ryan in the other.  We went back to where we had last seen the lion, and true to expectations, they had moved closer to the herd.

We parked up behind the lion pride, watching and waiting, for about an hour.  There were 8 lionesses in total, and they alternated between sitting up alertly, and lying down looking completely uninterested.

Then we had movement.  The buffalo herd became a bit dispersed, and a female and her calf were left slightly isolated from the rest of the herd.  As one, the lion pride started to move, half going around one way, half going around the other.  The calf wobbled on its legs, close to its mother, totally unaware of the danger that was about to erupt.

And erupt it did.  The lionesses moved as one, and within seconds, the mother had fled in one direction, and her calf had been brought down.  I covered my eyes, I know it is nature, but I didn’t want to see it come to its final end.

But then the mother returned.  Head down, she charged at the two lionesses who were holding the calf down with their paws.  They leapt away, and the mother turned and charged at another lion.  Confused, the lions began to scatter, and temporarily forgot the calf.  I was convinced that the calf was actually dead, then we saw it move, and it struggled to its feet.  It had survived its ordeal.

The mother continued to run at every lioness she could see, but just as I began to fear that she also would be pulled down, the cavalry arrived in the form of the remaining herd members.  Suddenly, the plain in front of us was full of buffalo running at lions.  Lions jumped on buffalo backs, buffalos kicked back and lions went flying.  One lion tried to climb up a tree, only to have to leap out of the way of a glancing buffalo horn.  The buffalo were on a mission, to protect their own.

Realising defeat, the lionesses decided to beat a hasty retreat.  The buffalo gave chase one final time.

Then it dawned on us … we had 8 lionesses running straight towards US at full pelt, with 40 angry buffalo hot on their heels (or paws).   We had been so enraptured by everything, we completely forgot that we should really be moving too.  Too late … now we were the ones being chased.

I never appreciated just how fast Land Rovers could go in reverse. I don’t know if anyone remembers the old Benny Hill sketches … well, this was very similar.   Land Rover being chased by lions being chased by buffalo.

The next day, we found the buffalo again.  The calf was easy to spot, as it had huge welts down its side from where it had been pulled down, but it seemed to be OK.  How long it did survive for, I don’t know, I like to think that it lived a long and happy life.

Funnily enough, about 5 years later, we bumped into our ranger Andrew, at another lodge.  He looked at us, recognition dawned, and the first thing he said?  ‘Hey, weren’t you the guys that we watched the buffalo lion chase with’?  He admitted that in all his years of being a ranger, this was one of the best nights of his life.  And it was definately one of my all time best safari memories.