Friday, 30 April 2010

Greetings from Vlei (pronounced Flay) Lodge here in Phinda. I have been moved to the best suite on property and I am now settled here for 3 nights.
One of the wonderful things about safari is waking up. The noises and general sounds from outside your villa make you feel VERY close to nature. This morning was no exception … I thought it was a monkey attack but sadly it was just a bush-baby crying about something! The lion roar was a noisy nyala and the rumble was from my tummy!

After a hearty breakfast we headed down to Phinda “airport” to film my arrival by light aircraft. There was a jackal skulking about which is a predator I have not seen in the wild before. Phinda means “The Return” and its foundation is dedicated to make returns to the local community. This morning – along with Vr from the foundation – I visited a local school at Nkomo.

I first met with Principal Nomusa. In 1998 she was the sole teacher in a school of around 200 pupils. Her classrooms were under trees and even her office was under a tree! She used to walk 10 kms to school every day and had to cross a river by small boat. Over the years, through Phinda and over companies, the school has blossomed. There are now 850 + pupils … there are proper classrooms in proper buildings … even the Principal has a proper office! The trees are still there though to remind everyone how far the school has come. This is “responsible” and “community” tourism at its best. We met loads of the children … it was just lovely. Sadly half the children are orphans or come from very poor backgrounds. The school ensures that these kiddies get food, water and an education that would not have been available if Nomusa and Phinda were not around. The school gets gifts of love in the form of books & pens … I raided The Oyster Box for at least 1600 sweets … every child in the school received sweets today … and I LOVE that & THEY loved that too!

From there Vr took me on a unique and amazing experience. Zulus have lived down here for nearly 2000 years and illness has been treated by Sangomas … basically spiritual healers and fortune tellers. I visited a Sangoma today – Mrs Gumede. She speaks to her spirits who in turn speak to mine to tell me what my life will be. Of course, I am not going to tell you what she said “off camera” but on camera, she assured me that I would be travelling for a long, long time! Yay!

Back at Phinda, along with Jonno my guide – we headed down the Mzinene River (the southern boundary of the reserve). We DIDN’T see crocodiles or hippos – but we did see a rather cute Monitor lizard! Nyala, impala, White Rhino, jackal, dung-beetle, monkeys, giraffe, buffalo … even the odd person!

Bull Buffalo
My Arrival

Jane (GM) and Nick

Male Nyala

Dung Beetle

Vr Nxumalo - Back at School

Principal Nomusa

Arrival at the Sangoma

Mrs Gumede and apprentices

White Rhino cow and calf

A Gentle Paddle!

Weather: Glorious!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Wayne and Jerome

Tyler and Karen

Zebra (white with black stripes)

Elegant giraffe

Jono and Thembinkosi

Greetings from Phinda – 300 kilometres north of Durban – where I am now on safari for the next few days!

It was a VERY sad start to the day as I bid farewell to my new Durban family. The Oyster Box has – collectively – some of the loveliest staff I have ever worked with. So along with the fabulous property and stunning views over The Indian Ocean, the hotel is a must see - must do on any visit to South Africa.

It took around 3 dusty hours for Clifford to drive us to Phinda. We drove past hectares of first sugar cane then eucalyptus trees … two major industries here in the Kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal.
There are quite a few lodges to the Phinda Private Game Reserve – six I believe.

I am tonight in one of the 16 private stilted suites of the Forest Lodge … before I move tomorrow to one of the six thatched suites in the Vlei Lodge.

I was met by the General Manager Jane Braak and also introduced to my guide – Jonathan Harper – who will be with me for most of my stay.

After a brief lunch, we went on the first game drive.
I had already seen zebra and giraffe on the way to the Lodge but within 5 minutes we were within 5 metres of three cheetahs … 2 brothers and sister. They were on a hunt and we tracked them for an hour or so before the light started to fail. Our tracker is chap called Thembinkosi who smiles a lot – especially when he is looking for clues to where a lion, cheetah, leopard, rhino, elephant, wildebeest, impala … (you get my drift) could be!
A good start to our filming here.

I LOVE going on safari - the smells, the sights, the warmth of the afternoon sun, the chill of the twilight air … The Royal Malewane up in Hoedspruit has always had a very soft spot in my heart … Phinda has the reputation of the best game reserve in KZN … and has won many awards! It has a lot to live up to! So far, so good!

Song of the Day: Rocket Man – Elton John

Weather: Sunny & Rainy

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

There's a stunning full moon over the Indian Ocean tonight ... it's just delicious.

I am a wee sunburnt, after playing golf this morning in the blistering sun and forgetting to apply sun-screen.

We had to cancel a feature this afternoon, microlighting, as the wind really picked up and flying was just out of the question.

Today I played the Durban Country Club golf course with its Director of Golf - Jason Bird. It has hosted the South African Open SIXTEEN times and is a lovely course just 15 minutes drive from The Oyster Box. I didn't do too badly at all! I didn't lose a single ball ... or my dignity!

I miss playing golf regularly....

The rest of the day was spent picking up shots around Durban and saying farewell to the lovely staff at the hotel as tomorrow I head to Phinda for safari and something VERY special which will be on here in the next couple of days.

Song of the Day: Discotheque - U2

Weather: HOT!

In the distance - the stadium for the World Cup which starts in 41 days!

The Durban skyline
Depiction of what could have been yesterday ... as drawn by 3 year old
A nice glass of something "nice" at the Lighthouse Bar ...

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

A short diary today as I am totally exhausted!

Up at 0315 to meet Clifford our driver. He drove us the 1-hour to Umkomaas and to Oceanworx which specialises in shark diving ... without cages!

I won't bore you with the details BUT Tim was ill (from the moment we hit the Ocean), James was ill (during the shoot) and I was ill (from ingesting a mouthful a "chum" which is made of fish oil, guts and blood). So - we were ALL ill! Not a pleasant experience on the slightly rough Indian Ocean!

ANYWAY - I did dive with Black Tip Sharks, Dusky Sharks and Tiger Sharks. The first two were playful and lovely ... the last one was - erm - well - scary! Below is a short explanation of each shark .. here's an excerpt from the Tiger Shark ...

"Second only to the great white shark in number of recorded attacks on humans, the tiger shark is considered, along with the great white, bull shark and the oceanic whitetip shark to be one of the sharks most dangerous to humans. This may be due to its aggressive nature and frequency of human contact as it often inhabits populated waters."

There were SIX Tiger Sharks around me at one stage!

Anyway, I am still alive ... with no visible bite marks ... have just had a fabulous massage (3rd this week), will now have room service and pop off to bed ...

A BIG day tomorrow ...

Pelagic Black Tip Sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus)

These sharks are common to coastal tropical and subtropical waters around the world, including brackish habitats. Genetic analyses have revealed substantial variation within this species, with populations from the western Atlantic Ocean isolated and distinct from those in the rest of its range. The blacktip shark has a stout, fusiform body with a pointed snout, long gill slits, and no ridge between the dorsal fins. Most individuals have black tips or edges on the pectoral, dorsal, pelvic, and caudal fins. It usually attains a length of 1.5 m (4.9 ft).

Swift, energetic piscivores, blacktip sharks are known to make spinning leaps out of the water while attacking schools of small fish. Their demeanor has been described as "timid" compared to other large requiem sharks. Both juveniles and adults form groups of varying size. Like other members of its family, the blacktip shark is viviparous; females bear 1–10 pups every other year. Young blacktip sharks spend the first months of their lives in shallow nurseries, and grown females will return to the nurseries where they were born to give birth themselves. In the absence of males, females are also capable of asexual reproduction.

Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier)

This shark is a solitary hunter, usually hunting at night. Its name is derived from the dark stripes down its body, which fade as the shark matures.

The tiger shark is a predator, known for eating a wide range of items. Its usual diet consists of fish, seals, birds, smaller sharks, squid, turtles, and dolphins. It has sometimes been found with man-made waste such as license plates or pieces of old tires in its digestive tract and is often referred to as "the wastebasket of the sea".

This shark may be easily identified due to its dark stripes which are similar to a tiger pattern. It also has dorsal fins that are distinctively close to its tail. These sharks are often large in size and may encounter humans because they often visit shallow reefs, harbours and canals.

Second only to the great white shark in number of recorded attacks on humans, the tiger shark is considered, along with the great white, bull shark and the oceanic whitetip shark to be one of the sharks most dangerous to humans. This may be due to its aggressive nature and frequency of human contact as it often inhabits populated waters.

Dusky Sharks (Carcharhinus obscurus)

This species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae, occurring in tropical and warm-temperate continental seas worldwide. A generalist apex predator, the dusky shark can be found from the coast to the outer continental shelf and adjacent pelagic waters, and has been recorded from a depth of 400 m (1,300 ft). Populations migrate seasonally towards the poles in the summer and towards the equator in the winter, traveling hundreds to thousands of kilometers. One of the largest members of its genus, the dusky shark reaches 4.2 m (14 ft) in length and 347 kg (765 lb) in weight. It has a slender, streamlined body and can be identified by its short round snout, long sickle-shaped pectoral fins, ridge between the first and second dorsal fins, and faintly marked fins.

Adult dusky sharks have a broad and varied diet, consisting mostly of bony fishes, sharks and rays, and cephalopods, but also occasionally crustaceans, sea stars, bryozoans, sea turtles, marine mammals, carrion, and garbage. This species is viviparous with a three-year reproductive cycle; females bear litters of 3–14 young after a gestation period of 22–24 months, after which there is a year of rest before they become pregnant again. Females are capable of storing sperm for long periods, as their encounters with suitable mates may be few and far between due to their nomadic lifestyle and low overall abundance. Dusky sharks are one of the slowest-growing and latest-maturing sharks, not reaching adulthood until around 20 years of age.

Song of the Day: I'm free - The Soup Dragons

Weather: Fair ... choppy ...

0500 - still very dark!
Pre-dive! I am HAPPY!
Choppy waters
A Tiger zooms by at great speed!
Dive Master - Carl Elkington (my smile is totally put-on!)

Monday, 26 April 2010

Another wonderful day here in Durban!
This diary entry is filled with photographs ... as I have just realised that I have to be up at 3.15 tomorrow! Eek!
0615 and I am in the pool ... for a refreshing swim!
The sun rises over the Indian Ocean
Jim & Tim have been filming in the hotel all day ... including with the Rolls-Royce
They took a helicopter over the property

THAT cat ... !

The Lighthouse! I have never stayed in a hotel that has its own lighthouse! The Lighthouse at Umhlanga Rocks was commissioned on the 25th November 1954 and took just 4 days and 19 hours to build. It is 21 metres tall ... and the beam produces 1.6 million candle power that can be seen by ships 24 nautical miles away! There are 121 steps internally ... and I climbed them to get to the top!

This lighthouse is in use today and everyday!

views from up there!

Tim ...

Jim ...

At twilight! Lovely!

BIG day tomorrow!

Song of the Day: The Killing Moon - Echo & the Bunnymen

Weather: Hot & humid!

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