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JohnM's E Africa aerial safari

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JohnM

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Last year I went on my first aerial safari in E Africa, covering four game parks in SW Kenya, followed by a trip to trek to the gorillas in Rwanda. My TR from that is here: http://www.australianfrequentflyer.com.au/community/trip-reports-and-trip-photos/aerial-safari-kenya-gorilla-trek-53313.html.

One of the things that really excited me about that trip was the superbly fitted-out Cessna Grand Caravan that I flew in for the Kenya part. I kept in touch with the company and this year for the first time, they offered an extended 16-day multi-country aerial safari to several countries in E Africa. I jumped at the opportunity, was first to book - and it was sensational!

Flying really is the way to go in E Africa. From what all the travellers I have met along the way tell me, the roads are rough (the ‘African massage’) and travel times are very long. Pay the money and go by air!

The trip started with a PER-SYD return QF mASA, a night in Sydney that took in Vivid (sensational –that’s the second year running for me), followed by a QF mASA SYD-JNB return. Overnight JNB (at City Lodge, very conveniently located right near the terminal), then JNB-xNBO-KIA(Kilimanjaro) the next day on a web el-cheapo on Kenya Airways and Precision Air. That night in Arusha before the safari began mid-morning the following day.

The aircraft is set up for 8 pax in a 4x2 configuration (most Caravans that operate in the region are set up in a 4x3 configuration or more). I understand that the company I went with has the only two Grand Caravans set up with such an Oasis interior in E and S Africa. See last year’s TR for interior pics. Very nice!

From KIA, we went to the N Serengeti (3 nights) and the Mahale Mountains (2 nights) in Tanzania, then to Likoma Island in Malawi (2 nights), to the Lower Zambezi in Zambia (2 nights), the Chobe River in Namibia (2 nights), the Okavango Delta in Botswana (2 nights), finishing in Livingstone on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls (2 nights). I then took a BA flight to JNB to connect with the homeward flights.

All up, in the safari itself, there were 14 flights segments, totalling 2443 miles (as the crow flies, according to The Great Circle Mapper). But we travelled scenically off the beeline quite a few times – another great advantage of the dedicated charter flying as opposed to the scheduled light aircraft services. I’ve put in maps of the 4 segment trip in the sister aircraft in Kenya last year (368 miles) and this year’s much more extensive trip.

2013 Kenya safari.

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2014 multi-country safari.

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OK, let’s work through the trip:

Here’s the famous clock tower at Arusha – the half-way point between Cape Town and Cairo. The Arusha Hotel, where I stayed, is hidden behind the trees in the background.

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The hotel was very comfortable:

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Dang the 5 image per post upload limit. Bear with me, there's a bunch to come...
 

JohnM

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On the way out to the first stop in the N Serengeti, we flew well off the beeline to go low over Lake Natron, a large shallow soda lake that was amazingly red from the algae (from which flamingos get their colour). It was then a lovely swoop over the peak of Ol Doinyo Lengai (10,459 feet), an active volcano of unique mineralogy (see Wikipedia if interested). It last blew in about 2007.

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The first stop and JohnM gets properly re-acquainted with his favourite aircraft :oops:. It was only at this point that I realised that the company has two similar aircraft and the one I was on this year was the YOUNGER SISTER! Dreams do come true! ;);):oops::oops::p:mrgreen:.

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The aircraft is fitted with this should anybody really need it. The longest flight was only about two hours and it was not used. (The two back seats against the rear bulkhead are not part of the 8-seat complement and there is a curtain behind the last row).

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JohnM

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JohnM

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The typical day’s activity when on safari is a wake-up call with a cup of tea or coffee at 0600, maybe have breakfast before departure on a game drive or maybe have breakfast or morning tea out on the drive. Back for lunch about 1200, then siesta until about 1530-1600 for afternoon tea before the afternoon game drive. Always a sundowner while out and then possibly a night game drive with a spotlight on the way back to camp. Being near the equator, sunset was fairly early and fast. Dinner about 1930-2000.

Nice kittys on the kopje:
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I’ve been to Africa several times now, so I tend not to take many photos of the more common animals, but here are some elephants nice and close.

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The migration was well under way and the very biggest wildebeest herds had already crossed into Kenya. Still saw plenty of wildebeest and zebra. Giraffes are always gorgeous and the rivers are full of hippos.

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Cont...
 

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The Serengeti grassland is extensive. Looking north towards Kenya and the Masai Mara.

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Getting ready to travel to Tabora in W Tanzania for a refuelling stop. Checking under the hood.

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No need to turn off your mobile phone and a full 5 bars out in the middle of E Africa.

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Beautiful display of where we’re going on the Garmin 1000 nav system. Heading SSW towards Tabora. E Africa has BIG lakes!

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Plenty of legroom in 1A :D.

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This way please, Princess Fiona:

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Off again. Heading to the Mahale Mountains National Park on the E shore of Lake Tanganyika. Home of chimpanzees. Lake Tanganyika is about 700 miles long and holds 18% of the world’s accessible fresh water, by virtue of its immense 1450 metre depth.
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Looks like an ocean.
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Mahale airstrip.

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Then a 1.5 hour dhow (powered) ride S to the Greystoke camp: Nomad. They’ve used a lot of timber from old dhows in the construction. Those hills in the background are steeper than they appear in photos. The chimps are up there – somewhere… Tomorrow we find out where.
 

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My room, like all others, tucked away in the jungle.
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Looking out.
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Open bathrooms are the go.
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OK, chimp trek time. We set off at 0830 after breakfast. It soon became apparent that, despite the “We’ll see you at lunch.” farewells by the camp staff, we were going to be out for quite a while. Our guide was in contact with the trackers by radio and the chimps were both deep in the park (which also meant high in the mountains) and were moving about a lot. We risked boxing ourselves into a dead-end at an impassable river at one point but the skill and intuition of the trackers and guide saw us right.

By mid-day we were starting to climb hard and five of our eight-person safari party dropped out. Thank goodness I don’t indulge in such fanciful pursuits common on this site such as slurping champagne and partaking of meals in the SYD or MEL QF F lounges. Errr… – hang on, maybe that’s why I could keep going ;):D:cool:. Must get back into training ;)!

Nice view of Lake Tanganyika getting up high.

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Finally, the word comes. We’re closing in on the chimps! Bonus! – they’ve killed a red colobus monkey which is a favoured prey. Upside: they’ll congregate and stick around for a while; downside: they’re pretty actively running about and up and down trees squabbling over the spoils.

For these reasons taking photos turned out to be more difficult than of the gorillas last year. The chimps leap about in the trees more than the gorillas and the foliage was quite dense with a lot of shade. As with the gorillas, we had one hour with the chimps.

Hi cuz...
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The light shining through the foliage produced an eerie silver-faced effect. No, it wasn’t QF WP dressed up for a fancy-dress party!

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Chill dude!
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Strolling closely past our pilot who was sitting taking in the experience. Note face masks which are mandatory when in the chimp zone as they are susceptible to some human diseases.

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Coming back my way and just at my feet. Seven metres is the proscribed separation but, like the gorillas, if they come towards you, it’s often a bit hard to move away.

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It was a pretty solid day’s trek. We got back to camp at 1700. Apparently, our experience was about the limit of what people have done to see the chimps. A quick swim in the lake and then it was time for several beers watching the sun go down from the bar on the point. Man, those beers were gooood :D:D:D! The lady in the photo is the co-manager of the camp with her husband, since last October. What a gig!

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The sun setting over the Congo on the W shore of Lake Tanganyika.

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Next morning, it was back to Mahale airstrip and a low-level flight down the lake to buzz the camp before climbing up the valley to see the terrain we had mastered the day before.

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The second ridge was about where we encountered the chimps. That jungle is pretty thick. We really did spend all day trekking through that!

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Then it was on to Mbeya international airport in SW Tanzania to exit the country. Next stop Malawi.
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We entered Malawi at Mzuzu, a very small international airport. I didn’t need a visa for Malawi but the other seven pax, all from Switzerland, did. After some confusion that the letters they were holding were approvals, but not actual visas, and some slow African bureaucracy, they got their visas. Then we were on our way for the 20 minute flight to Likoma Island, way over on the E side of Lake Malawi very near Mozambique, but actually a part of Malawi.

The air traffic controller’s daughters had a look in the bird.
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The Kaya Mawa camp on Likoma Island: Kaya Mawa, Malawi Luxury Resort, Lake Malawi was a quiet place to chill for two nights after the heavy-duty chimp trek. The accommodation has been built into the rocky shore of the lake.

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You wouldn’t want to stumble when getting up during the night.
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The gap in the big rocks leads to the (open) bathroom.
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A pilot’s work is never done.
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Market in the local village.
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Next stop was back to Mzuzu to exit Malawi, over to Mfuwe to enter Zambia and refuel, then on to our next stop at Chongwe River Camp (Lower Zambezi - Chongwe River Camp) on the Lower Zambezi.

The flight display shows how, as a dedicated charter flight, we were very readily able to flexibly move off the beeline path. The aircraft symbol has us well to the left of the beeline heading through a valley to intercept the Zambezi for a nice low-level flight along the river to our destination.

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Coming in low along the lower Zambezi.

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Chongwe camp. All the camps had their own unique style, fitting in nicely to the local environment. It’s one of the things that I really love about Africa; no cookie-cutter stuff in safari camps.

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My tent. At all camps, the accommodation units are always well-separated from each other.
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Cont...
 

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View from front door. Pod of hippos on the opposite bank.
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Sundowner time – again.
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Hello kitty.
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Lions at a fresh buffalo kill.
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Nice sundowner after an afternoon game run upriver, cut the motors and drift downstream.
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Breakfast was done real campfire-style. Toast made over the open coals reminded me of my childhood!
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Next day was a lengthy low-level flight up the lower Zambezi to rise over Kariba dam and drop back to low level flying the length of the dam (Lake Kariba) and then through the deepening and narrowing river valley approaching Victoria Falls.

Lake Kariba is the world’s largest artificial lake (at 5580 sq km it makes lake Argyle on the Ord River at 703 sq km look like thimble). It’s over 220 km long – no wonder it took almost an hour to fly its length!

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Flying in comfort. Nice to be able to swivel the seats for taking in the view.
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This is the way to fly!
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Victoria Falls (‘The smoke that thunders’) coming up.
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On circuit to Livingstone with the Falls in the distance.
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Refuelled and exited Zambia at LVI, then a 20 minute flight to Kasane in Botswana, a short drive into town to exit Botswana and enter Namibia as our houseboat accommodation (Ichobezi Safariboats ) was registered in Namibia, just on the other side of the Chobe River. Far NE Namibia makes a small wedge of land where the Chobe joins the Zambezi, between Zambia and Botswana, upstream from Victoria Falls.

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Pretty chilled.
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My room was right at the front.
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The houseboats meandered upstream during the afternoon. It was game ‘drive’ time, followed by a sundowner, in the dinghys come the late afternoon. The Chobe is famous for the elephants in the wetland.

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Late afternoon sun catches these lions.
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