Trip Start May 01, 2007
21Trip End Aug 01, 2007
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We arrived at Nottens after along day of travel and immediately felt relaxed. (he said: Kate is leaving out the fact that we basically came into Nottens the "back" way - which is to say a way that they do not let people go and one that is reserved for 4x4 vehicles - we had a lovely CHICOOOOOO! [small VW, which had a lovely sticker on the side with those words - basically it became a rally cry for Derek and I]. Kate and Derek were sure we would get stuck in some sand dune and eventually be slowly eaten by a pack of hyenas - it was a bit dicey however, as there are almost no signs and the road is meant for 4x4 vehicles - nevertheless, some adventure to add to the trip).
The rooms are separate huts (only 6 total) with thatched roofs, wood floors and lovely beds and bathrooms. Our room had an attached deck that looked out over the bush...they told us not to leave fruit out there b/c of the monkeys and hyenas! We had a king bed with a huge white down comforter
Here is the daily schedule at Nottens:
(everything is optional, so we could participate in as much or as little as we wanted)
5:30am knock at the door to wake us up (i know, pretty early for vacation!)
Tea, coffee and biscuits are served
6:30-9:30am Morning game drive. this is a 3hr drive...the sun is just coming up, the animals are just waking up and you can smell the earth warming.
9:30am Breakfast! fruit, muesli, yogurt, muffins, tea, coffee (first course), then eggs, bacon, grilled mushrooms, tomato's, potatoes.
10:45 Bushwalk (about an hour) This consists of walking with a trained bushman who tells you about what everything is (trees, bushes, flowers, mounds in the sand, etc) (FYI: The mounds of sand are from ants...they get to be huge and are used by other animals to lay their eggs
12-3pm Free time
3:30 High tea (lunch) This is usually a light meal (fruit, salad, quiche or pizza)
4-7pm Game drive. This one is also 3hrs and a different experience from the morning one. The sun was going down around 5pm (remember it's winter) and the evening light was so pretty when hitting the vegetation and animals. Just as the sun went down, our driver would stop and get out drinks for us (we would pre-order), mainly cocktails, while we watched the sun go down. Then it was DARK. In addition to the driver, there was a bushman in a chair rigged out on the front left bumper. This guy was the bait. No, just kidding! (he said: ahh, the dose of k cheesiness). He held a huge spot light and looked out for animals, mostly cats at this time of night. We would ride and ride, look at the stars, bundle up in hats and scarves and start to get skeptical that we would see anything at all. But, each night we saw cats - leopard and lion!
7:00pm Drinks back at camp
7:30pm Dinner - sometimes inside by the fire if it was cold, other times outside by a huge fire and loads of candles
10pm Bed...we couldn't stay up much later than this!
We were the youngest folks at Nottens by about 20 yrs, but we expected that. And we met the nicest people from all over. There were two couples from Cape Town that were visiting the owners...they had a time-share condo on a golf course about an hours drive away. The golf course had a creek braided thru it that had hippos all over it! They invited us to drive out one day to see the hippos, which we really appreciated. The creek was lined with a low fence and just inside the fence (toward the creek) was an electric fence to keep the hippos inside. There was a bunch of females crowded together, with one female resting her baby on her head while she bobbed in the water. Apparently, one of them was pregnant and about to give birth, so they keep all of the males far away until after the birth (he said: apparently the other females had just accepted the other female with a calf - hippos commonly try to kill the young calves as they are very protective of their little slice of water - we heard stories the mom constantly trying to avoid the others attempts to kill the small calf.) I've seen hippos on tv, but I had no idea how loud they were! They would spit water, moan and groan, and every once in awhile they would all make these loud, yelling noises.
He said: Ok, so I'll get to the animals, as this was the primary reason for choosing Nottens and the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. (just to catch you up, I am updating this entry from Mumbai, following our visit to Vietnam. We tried and tried to find a fast internet connection throughout our time there, but no luck. Likewise with India, which is ridiculous considering their expertise and mass export in computer programming, but alas, the infrastructure has not caught up with the people. SO.....the photos will unfortunately have to wait until we can post them from London, which is where we'll be in a few days time. So for now, back to the literary version of our safari experience.
First game drive was the morning after we arrived. 5:30 came mighty early, but we hauled ourselves out of bed and lit the lanterns, threw on some warm clothes (morning temps were around 45 degrees until the sun came up). We were served tea and biscuits and then all loaded up in the open-top Land Rovers. Best seat is in the back, which is elevated above the others - worst seat is on the left front bumper, where they welded a seat for our tracker - he was the bait, and we exchanged countless jokes about him being eaten, mauled, etc. - all in good fun, of course.
The first major siting was a herd of elephants, browsing around a creek bed
(She said: it was great, our guide, thomas, saw the elephants and then drove around to where he thougth they'd be coming and we ended up in the perfect position to see them come up to a water hole and drink, eat and spash a bit of water on themselves. They looked at us and then turned away disinterested - besides the one male of course. The best part was when Thomas turned to us during the male's aggression and said, "If he comes this way, just sit tight, okay?" Ha! I don't think I would be able to do anything else besides crap my drawers! They all moseyed by us when they were done and one of the mother's when stopped for the baby to nurse. It was so great)
After the elephant siting, we were quite satisfied with the morning; however, we came across a small herd of giraffes, Kudu (same as those from the Namibia visit), lots of impala, and a host of birds that were all named by Peter, one of the South Africans in our rover
The first night drive was also an incredible experience as this is the first time we encountered a predator, a young male leopard. We came upon it from behind, walking on one of the 4x4 roads. It briefly turned to get a look at us, and then continued to walk slowly down the road, with its enormous tail swinging back and forth behind it. The tracker/spotter had a good spotlight, which amazingly the leopard didn't mind being shown directly in its face. Not content with the view, our guide (Thomas, who had been with Nottens since he was a boy). decided to drive INTO the bush to get around to the front of the leopard. We start into the bush and the leopard lies down in the grass (the setting is more forest-like than what is commonly shown in wildlife shows - its fairly dense and you couldn't see a leopard until were on top of him). All of a sudden Thomas tells the spotter to turn his light off, and Thomas follows suit with the vehicle lights. So here we are driving around in front of the leopard with our lights off, realizing that he is about 7-10 feet away from the land rover
The second day included more suspense and great finds, including a female leopard and her cub! Great shots of her drinking at a water hole - also incredible views of them through the binoculars, where you could see unbelievable detail in her coat, tongue, eyes, etc. (She said: One of the guys in our group was this massive, 6'5" Frech man named Pascal...he and his wife, Fabienne who had been to Nottens before and were wildlife photographers by hobby. they each had massive cameras and lenses and were stationed in the land rover next to us during the mother/cub drinking at the water hole. I was taking the whole scene in and was watching everyone peering thru their cameras clicking constantly, when Pascal paused, looked up at me and winked, and then went back to clicking. It was priceless. He told me back at the camp that it was his most amazing experience yet, and he took over 200 pictures of it!) After the leopard we found a white rhino family, including a baby
Back to the lodge, where we caught a warthog and elephant family from our back porch. Incredible to be sitting on your porch viewing these animals - almost felt like we were cheating a bit. We went on our first bush walk that afternoon - only one guide out in front armed with a rifle. Most of the walk was devoted to seeing the little things that you miss from the land rover. These included plants and their uses, elephant "pillows" (which are used anthills), bird nests, etc. For safety reasons, we couldn't go out too far from the main property and there was always a land rover which drove far ahead of us to keep a look out for predators. I think we all felt quite calm considering, but lets just say you pay particular attention to your surroundings. Our guide Joe, did tell a rather graphic tale about a ranger in the park who decided to sleep outside one night and who had his ear bitten off by a hyena during the night
Another night drive yielded more leopard (male and female), water buffalo, zebra, and another siting of white rhino. During all the night drives, we did get a chance to stop during sunset for cocktails (I know, this is getting ridiculous) and snacks, and watch the sunset. These were great times as the stars came out and you could hear all the sounds of the bush that would normally be drowned out by the rover.
The final day was amazing as we got our first sight of a lion in the wild. Initially, our guide came upon a female kudu making a warning call (which was incredibly loud - that's one of the benefits of the videos we will post, you get to 'hear' the bush, which is just as incredible as seeing the pics themselves) to other kudus in the area - this prompted our guide to search in the direction of her sight-line. We finally came across a female who was walking in our direction - she went into the bush a bit and out of view, but then we noticed three other lions following her, another female and two males
Well, we ended our Nottens journey the next morning and drove to Jo'berg for our flight to Sydney. It truly was an incredible experience, and we counted it as the best part of our trip so far.