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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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Top 5 Places to See Lions In the Wild

TraceyCampbell - August 10, 2015

We have seen a lot of news articles recently about lions, well, one lion in particular, but today is not for mourning Cecil, but it is for remembering him and celebrating the existence of lions all over the world – present and past. Today is World Lion Day – the first global campaign to recognise the importance of the lion worldwide.

The future of lions is slowly moving towards extinction across Africa and India. Humans have lived alongside the King of the Jungle for thousands of years and today, there have never been a more pressing need to embrace the conservation of these magnificent creatures, to help them continue to remain in our lives for the foreseeable future. Lion conservation, raising awareness and education is paramount to their continued existence.

As a visitor to Africa, going on safari and being able to see lions in the wild is a magical experience. To watch them interact with each other in their pride, to understand and learn about their behaviour from your qualified ranger or field guide, to hear their gutteral roaring at night and to see them hunt together is an experience that most people will never forget. If seeing lion in the wild has always been on your bucket list, there are a number of places that you can visit to realise this dream. Here are our Top 5 destinations.

Masai Mara – Kenya
Home to the Big Cat Diary, the grassy plains of the Masai Mara, baked golden by the African sun have always been a firm favourite for lion lovers. The ready supply of antelope, zebra, and wildebeest means a constant supply of food for the resident prides – especially during the months of July through to September/October, when the Great Migration arrives from the drier Serengeti Plains into the Mara in search of the green grass here.

IMG_3004 Morning Game Drive from Porini Lion

Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve – South Africa
Sabi Sands is the most famous of the private reserves adjoining the Kruger National Park. Covering over 65,000 hectares of wild bushland, it offers possibly some of the best lion viewing opportunities to be found on the continent, and provide an unforgettable experience. The land is privately owned, so the game viewing vehicles are not restricted to the road network and it is therefore possible for the experienced guides to follow the prides through the bush and to get extremely close to the animals as they go about their daily way of life.

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Botswana
Botswana is now one of only 7 countries left with a lion population over 1,000 making it imperative to conserve the species in this country. In particular, you have the famous lions living in Savute who are known to specialise in preying on elephants, and a pride in Linyanti who hunt hippo. Visitors to the Okavango Delta may seen lions crossing the waterways from island to island in order to hunt.

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Ruaha National Park – Tanzania
The Ruaha National Park is renowned for its undisturbed wildlife and stunning, rugged scenery, as well as it’s flourishing lion population. It is estimated that Ruhaha is home to the 2nd largest lion population in Africa – so about 10% of all lions left in the world.

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South Luangwa National Park – Zambia
The Luangwa Valley has a healthy population of lion, and prides of up to 30 lions are common here. The birthplace too of the ‘walking safari’ you also can have the opportunity to approach prides on foot – of course, from a VERY safe distance!

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What Dad Do You Have?

TraceyCampbell - June 17, 2015

With Father’s Day this weekend (Sunday June 21st)… what dad do you have?

The Elephant Dad

Species Name: “Earandnose Hairsprouticus”

Characteristics: Slightly wrinkled and grey with sparse hair growth in unwanted places, Elephant Data is incredibly thick skinned and seemingly unaware of always being the butt of pranks dished out by his kids and workmates.

Personality traits: Intelligent, loyal and dependable; a good all-rounder.

Natural Born Enemies: Unwanted nose and ear hair; tweezer-wielding women who like a manicured man.

Most likely to be found: Trumpeting loudly about his latest efforts to track down the spotty youth (now aged 45) who used to bully him in the school playground. An Elephant Dad NEVER forgets.

Father’s Day Gift Ideas: Men’s Grooming Essentials Kit

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The Rhino Dad

Species Name: “Tubbicus Bellious”

Characteristics: Unnervingly self-assured despite taking little pride in his appearance, Rhino Dad is unfathomably proud of his ample girth (evidence of his love of eating and drinking with little or no physical exercise) and seems to get a huge kick out of being outwardly irritable and cantankerous for no apparent reason.

Personality traits: Argumentative and disapproving about anything and everything, with a big ego to boot.

Natural Born Enemies: Anyone with an opinion that differs from his; wives who insist on dusting and vacuuming around him while he’s got his feet up (almost always).

Most likely to be found: Arguing with fellow Rhino Dads down at his local; applying the two-second rule to any food item left unattended, regardless of who it belongs to.

Father’s Day Gift Ideas:Memoirs of a Grumpy Old Man” personalised notebook

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The Penguin Dad

Species Name: “Alwaysembarrissing Hiskidsus”

Characteristics: Hands-on and dependable, Penguin Dad likes to think he’s a bit of a James Bond charmer with the ladies. Sadly after a few beers his Dad-dancing moves involuntarily kick-in, often accompanied by bad singing and/or air-guitaring, ensuring optimum embarrassment of his offspring and fellow onlookers.

Personality traits: Loyal and dependable with no natural rhythm whatsoever.

Natural Born Enemies: The real James Bond; anyone with a mobile phone and access to YouTube or Facebook.

Most likely to be found: Awkwardly shuffling around the dancefloor eyeing up the ladies and thinking he’s a bit of a dude, while his kids look on in horror.

Father’s Day Gift Ideas:Tuxedo” tablet cover  or “The Name’s Bond” Stamp Print

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The Eagle Dad

Species Name: “Immaturitus Daddicus”

Characteristics: Sharp-witted, shrewd and a natural high-flyer, Eagle Dad is ultra-competitive and hates coming second, even in an innocent game of Twister with his kids. His own Number One fan, this guy is prepared to do just about anything when it comes to making money or beating others, even if it does involve risk taking.

Personality traits: Happy to brag about his successes; laughs in the face of danger; bad loser.

Most likely to be found: Sitting in the waiting room of his local A&E department after partaking in extreme sports that grown men of any age would be nuts to entertain. “Hobbies” include BASE Jumping, Highlining, Windsuit Flying or simply trying to outdo his kids on the zip-wire down at the local park.

Natural Born Enemies: Health and Safety Inspectors; anyone involved in the enforcement of rules.

Father’s Day Gift Ideas:101 Things to Do Before You Die”  or “Make Your Own Bucket List” book

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The Lion Dad

Species Name: “Idleous Buggerous”

Characteristics: Lazy and disinterested in pretty much everything except the inside of his eyelids, Lion Dad takes great pride in his hands-off approach to parenting and is quite happy whiling away the hours stretched out on a nice comfy sofa while his wife and kids do all of the running around.

Personality traits: Calm and confident, exhibiting an air of superiority to others whilst doing a lot of nothing.

Most likely to be found: Relaxing in front of the TV, waiting for his wife to get back from the supermarket and cook his dinner (typically a 16oz steak, rare of course), before the kids wash up.

Natural Born Enemies: Line Managers; Step-children… Beware.

Father’s Day Gift Ideas: Laguiole Olive Wood Steak Knives

IMG_3077 On way to Cottars

The Warthog Dad

Species Name: “Scruffius Grubbius”

Characteristics: Surprisingly confident, considering the distinct lack of care in his outward appearance and concern about offending others due to the absence of any degree of social etiquette, Warthog Dad loves a good old drink and is a bit of a softie at heart.

Personality traits: Ham-fisted and clumsy; considered a bit of a bumbling fool, but there’s serious strength of character to be found beneath that unwieldy exterior.

Most likely to be found: Snorting loudly at distasteful jokes; belching and farting in public without even the slightest hint of embarrassment while his mortified kids cringe under the sheer weight of the excruciating humiliation.

Natural Born Enemies: Toffs; anyone who recites snippets of “Debrette’s Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners”.

Present ideas:101 Bad Dad Jokes” – all the jokes kids don’t want to hear

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The Hyena Dad

Species Name: “Immaturus Patheticus”

Characteristics: Behaving like the class clown despite having (reluctantly) left school more than 20 years ago, Hyena Dad remains in complete denial about his age and the responsibilities that come with being both an adult and father, refusing to grow up and preferring to mix with kids less than half his age.

Personality traits: Immature; refusal to acknowledge responsibility; inbuilt inability to take anything seriously.

Most likely to be found: Hanging out with the under-tens at the local skate park doing BMX stunts, laughing at juvenile pranks and shouting “You’re it!” as he taps some unfortunate 5-year old on the head and runs off.

Natural Born Enemies: Grown-ups, boffins and pretty much anyone who dares to take life too seriously.

Present ideas: DIY Electro Whoopie Cushion Kit  or “ICK” Mug

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Happy Fathers Day to every dad out there!

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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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.