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December 2004

This Month:
• The new Spa at North Island opens.
• Monthly update from Chikwenya Camp in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Makalolo Plains in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports for December 2004.
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly report from Rocktail Bay on South Africa's Eastern coast.
• Fabulous Dive Report from Rocktail Bay.
• Monthly report from Ongava in Namibia.
Little Kulala Camp reopens in Namibia.

North Island in the Seychelles
North Island Spa launched - Dec 04                Jump to North Island
Relaxing in the sunken bath at North Island's new spa
Spa products at North Island
Professional spa treatment on North Island, Seychelles

With its naturally refined atmosphere and extreme attention to detail, North Island has always been the ideal destination for an atmospheric getaway and the leading light in barefoot luxury. Now, with the addition of a personalised spa that caters to each client’s specific needs, North Island offers guests the option to indulge in some professional pampering and holistic healing.

Situated in a setting that’s untouched and in tune, North Island has always placed great emphasis on rejuvenating and refreshing guests in an environment that is stress-free and therapeutic. The addition of a spa gives visitors the option of actively enhancing their stay at North Island and benefiting even more from the natural healing opportunities available on this island sanctuary.Located above the main pool on huge granite rocks, the North Island Spa overlooks the clear azure ocean. It’s here that guest will be able to enjoy the advantages of personalised care and service. On arrival, spa therapists will develop a special programme, designed to address individual needs and requirements. Included in this programme are treatments aimed at relieving stress, detoxifying, cleansing and purifying, and others best suited to after-exercise. Each guest decides, in collaboration with an expert, on what best caters to their individual needs. It’s all about individual care and attention, rejuvenation and refreshment – the cornerstones of North Island’s philosophy.

Only the best will do at North Island. ESPA, an internationally renowned boutique spa operator based in the UK, has a vision that is synergetic with that of North Island’s. Focussed on aligning inner and outer beauty through the therapeutic benefits of spa treatments, aromatherapy, thalassotherapy and skin care, ESPA is a respected partner of the North Island Spa.

Mixing exceptionally high standards with an unrivalled understanding of therapeutic healing techniques, ESPA products and treatments offer the quintessential solution to revitalising the mind, body and soul. Made, wherever possible, from natural products, ESPA products are created using the highest quality organically grown plants, selected for their purity, potency and therapeutic qualities. That’s what goes in. The result is a holistic approach that ensures that visitors emerge from their treatment feeling energised, revitalised, relaxed and de-stressed.

North Island invites guests to indulge themselves and enjoy the regenerative opportunities of the North Island Spa. This sanctuary, situated in a resort that sits on the edge of a paradise, is the ideal addition to an already idyllic location. When you leave North Island, you’ll be a different person to when you arrived …

• Conde Nast Traveller UK rated North Island as one of the world’s 50 cool hotels and one of the sexiest new places across the globe!
• American magazine, Organic Style, named North Island as one of their greatest escapes.
• Canadian Robb Report’s 16th Annual “Best of the Best” named North Island as the Best of the Best Resort. The ultimate “island paradise,” North Island was selected by Robb Report editors, who were impressed by its 11 secluded 5,000 square-foot villas, tropical elegance, and exceptional cuisine offered by this “sanctuary in the Seychelles.”
• North Island was also named the UK Sunday Times Travel Magazine’s Best Resort in 2003. According to the editor, Brian Schofield, “Style in the travel industry is all about making the guest feel relaxed and welcome, as opposed to being awe struck. North Island has set a towering new standard in barefoot luxury and has leaped to the top of the world’s Honeymoon Hot list. North Island is as luxurious and private as anyone can wish for. In addition, the judges were duly impressed by its dedication to the environment.” The magazine itself quotes that, “North Island really is a once in a lifetime experience and most of us will probably only experience the many destinations that will feel its influence and will copy its tricks, but the judges agreed that this kind of vision deserves recognition.”


Zimbabwe Camps
Chikwenya Camp Newsletter - Dec 04                Jump to Chikwenya Camp
Lovely scene at Chikwenya Camp in Northern Zimbabwe
November and December are the epitome of 'feast or famine' in the Zambezi Valley. November is a dust bowl at its harshest, any new green on eager trees are cruelly out of reach for the painfully thin browsers and grazers that crowd the creeks for what little grass clings to life there. The Albidas have released their bounty and their leaves, and stand like skeletal ghosts in the surreal colour-drained landscape haunted by the scent of unseen flowers and distant rain. Clouds build and promise respite as the land begs for rain; we pray for the animals, but only light showers tease, barely damping the surface and evaporating like steam off the scorching earth. Some impala drop their young too soon, only to abandon them, their udders dry without grass, and they struggle on just to save themselves. Many elephant still head off, periodically swimming the Zambezi to Zambia and its stormy hills or to the Zimbabwean escarpment where rain has been more generous.

This is the time of the predators. When others starve, they feast. The month began with phenomenal wild dog sightings as the Nyamepi pack of 24 hunted and killed an impala in Grasshopper Creek, unperturbed by a game drive vehicle. The hunt was over in record time and the quarry almost completely devoured in minutes as the vehicle arrived, but guests were treated to greeting displays and the adults regurgitating for the pups as well as the Alpha female, which had a broken leg. For a few days, the dogs were found in this area, where they were observed regularly for long periods as they rested and the pups wrestled in the shade. Always close to water, they would all go down for a drink before beginning the hunt. Hunting was observed on numerous occasions in the late afternoons and early mornings with high success rates confirmed by the meagre remains and the dogs' full bellies.

The Chikwenya lion pride has been very active. Kwela has isolated herself from the pride and has denned just across the Sapi in Mana Pools. Her swollen lactating teats indicate that she has given birth. She has been seen on several occasions hunting for herself, though not always successfully. On one occasion, she was seen chasing two warthogs towards the camp's main area. The pride has outdone itself - hunting and killing a buffalo in view of a game drive vehicle and a stone's throw from Room 9. It took them a day and a half to finish eating it, allowing us plenty of photo opportunities as they ventured into the flood-plain to quench their thirst in small pools and lie on the sparse but cool grass and sand to do what lions do best - digest. Late in November, Norman Monks, the National Parks ecologist, and his wife Nyasha came to collar one of the females in the pride as part of his ongoing lion research project. Through our documentation of sightings, we contribute information on the movement of the Chikwenya pride. We have not seen Mafuka for quite some time, which is our only other collared lion and Livingston's partner(a territorial male). It is a wonderful opportunity to follow the lion's movements more accurately again.

With so little bush cover and food around, the abundance of game never ceases to amaze. The normally shy nyala come to drink at the back pan in herds of up to ten or more, accompanied by their equally beautiful cousins the bushbuck, oblivious or too thirsty to worry about vehicles. Large groups of over 30 banded mongoose are seen daily searching the potholes of the shrinking back pan, occasionally darting for the cover of their termite mound home. Other solitary animals like the slender mongoose are seen several times daily as their striking red fur coats offer no camouflage in the pale dust, their character revealed as they peer comically at us through holes in hollow fallen trees. We were treated to a rare night sighting of a pair of mating white-tailed mongoose. Bush pig and porcupine have retreated to the cool shade of the forest where they dig small holes everywhere in search of hidden roots and dormant tubers. Even the secretive leopard have been seen acting nonchalant when their cover is blown.

It is hard to believe that life could spring from such a barren place in the nick of time to save these creatures. Finally towards the end of November, our prayers were answered. The clouds built up in earnest to huge black threatening Cumulonimbus and dumped their life-giving load on Chikwenya in torrential downpours typical of Africa. The smell of first rain on dust is narcotic to animals and humans, the memory etched in our minds forever. Electricity is in the air as lightning dances its impressive theatrical display from the colossal clouds. As if from nowhere, a million tiny seeds burst into life and took hold in the fragile soil. Almost before our eyes, the grass began to grow and before we knew it, in less than a week, Chikwenya was transformed into Zimbabwe's own Garden of Eden with a luscious carpet of green. The relief was palpable, tension gone and the impala dropped their tiny lambs en masse. Some were not so lucky, but most survived through camouflage and in their newborn, odourless state we watched oblivious lions pass them by as they lay stock-still. Hippo can still be seen out grazing during the day; making up for lost time, they are quickly getting their figures back - some are closely followed by  tiny, 'baked bean' babies - so little they hitch rides on Mum's backs in deep water.

December's sweet new grass brought the elephants back in their hundreds. One herd, which lost a calf in October, was blessed with another from one of the other females. Newly born and still all wet, we got to witness his first wobbly faltering steps, and his first noisy attempts at suckling, while the other members introduced themselves, touching him and blowing warm air on him and dusting him with sand. A young bull, confused by all the excitement mounted the new mum several times much to her chagrin, resulting in a lot of trumpeting and tight grouping of the herd as she tried to tuck the new baby under her body with her trunk. The poor little thing was nearly trampled several times by the clumsy bull. An unforgettable and touching experience.

Everywhere you look, babies, babies and more babies! Baboons with their tiny black tots clinging to mum's bellies, use the lawns to play with each other in awkward clumsiness. Vervet monkeys (our naughty children) bring their newborns into the camp to see what the buffet has to offer. So tiny are these little (almost human) babies, yet they stare out from their mother's breast with curious big black eyes, which are too big for their tiny grey-white faces, craning their necks to see you, absorbing every sight and sound like sponges. Many trees are fruiting and the adults pack their cheek pouches so full of mahogany or purple cluster pears that they cannot close their mouths - red pips stick out like rascal tongues taunting us. Everything can relax now and the grass is a comfortable bed for all in this veritable Paradise.

The birds have come into their own with some very rare sightings in both November and December, starting with that most coveted of all, the African Pitta (Angola Pitta), which was seen on several occasions in the thicker bush and dense forest by a lucky few. Other great sightings include the gorgeous Narina Trogon, Livingstone's Flycatcher, the seasonal Broad-billed Roller, Painted Snipe, sanderlings, Striped and Emerald Cuckoo, Purple-banded Sunbird and the elusive Dwarf Bittern. Bearded robins nested right in camp and have two rapidly growing chicks. Never forgetting our camp are the wattle-eyes and Red-throated twinspots and last but not least, a very unusual sighting of a Crested Guineafowl that walked right through the busy camp and explored the bar, buffet and car park area as we all looked on! Since it is usually very difficult to find these normally shy creatures, we could only surmise it was looking for one of its lost marbles, or a place to nest, which it eventually did behind the manager's house.

The cicadas have given way to a chorus of a million and one frogs that treat us to a deafening serenade every night and days too, frantically laying eggs in every puddle, which hatch in no time at all into scrumptious seething black masses of tadpoles. We watched dragonfly larvae, birds, snakes and small mammals all feed on them. Only a few are fortunate enough to mature and escape the puddles before they dry up

With the explosion of frogs and rainfall filling winter burrows, snakes have been flushed out. We find them on the boardwalks, basking in the sun or hunting frogs in the bushes. A subtly beautiful assortment of Spotted bush snakes, Striped-bellied sand snakes, Vine snakes, Olive grass snakes, juvenile brown house snakes, Red-lipped herald snakes, Purple gloss snakes, Bibron's burrowing adders and African rock pythons, but no big nasties! All dart off at speed when their most feared predator approaches - Man!

With the rains, insect populations have also exploded, to the delight of birds and lizards. Flying ants form the staple food, but dung beetles take advantage of the sudden increase of fresh soft green dung to roll into balls and lay their eggs. The dancing flutter of millions of delicate colourful butterflies is constantly present in one's peripheral vision, exploding from bushes like divine confetti.

The full moon on Christmas day ensured that we awoke to a gentle soaking rain, allowing the luxury of a sleep-in for most. A much-needed gift to the land, it rained every day until New Years Eve when the sky cleared. We ate dinner by candle light under the black velvet sky, diamond studded with the brilliantly clear Milky Way and saw the New Year in with flutes of bubbly and song.


Makalolo Newsletter - Dec 04                 Jump to Makalolo Plains Camp
Rainbow over Makalolo Plains in Zimbabwe
"Wow" - it has been an incredible month at Makalolo! All things spotted, striped, furry and horned have given us encouraging sightings! It was also proven that wet weather road transfers have their advantages, as on several road trips both in and out of camp, a female cheetah and three of her cubs were seen lounging around a termite mound in the public area of the park. We had a lone male cheetah frequenting the concession.

A tranquil sunset in front of camp was disturbed by a frenzied herd of wildebeest being chased at top speed by the cheetah - the hunt persisted for several minutes, but in the end, the cheetah failed dismally! Multitudes of zebra have appeared all over the plains, relishing the short grasses and shoots. A young male zebra was seen in front of camp and appeared to be carrying a snare on his back leg. He was successfully darted by Courteney (Linkwasha) and within minutes, the wound was effectively treated and the zebra was up and galloping around!

A pack of nine wild dogs (comprising four adults and five big pups) were seen at Ngweshla on top of a kudu kill. They were then seen a couple of days later in front of camp attempting to hunt wildebeest calves! However, they were made to look the fools, when the wildebeest herd retaliated and chased the pack of dogs into the bush! We witnessed more wildebeest dropping their calves in the earlier weeks of December, which included the birth of a deformed young wildebeest whose front legs were formed facing the opposite direction. The three lionesses and their eight cubs have stayed in the area and were seen at Broken Rifle earlier in the month, feeding on both an adult and baby zebra - one of the cubs was seen holding a zebra hoof in its mouth!

Towards the middle of the month, we noticed that two new young male lions entered the area and they have been seen several times at the pan near the airstrip. An amazing highlight was that of three leopard tortoises - seen together, walking down the road from Broken Rifle to Ngweshla - not going anywhere in a hurry! We ended off 2004 with an amazing rhino sighting in front of Little Mak - so close one could almost touch it!

An array of migratory birds has started to arrive on the Plains for their "summer" vacation. The storks have come out in full force - including White storks, Abdim's, Woolly-necked, Open-billed, Saddle-billed and Marabou storks, as well as spoonbills. The pans have come alive with White-faced ducks, Egyptian and Spur-winged geese, Hottentot and Red-billed teals and Knob-billed ducks. A pair of Crowned cranes have taken up residence at Somavundla Pan and are often seen in the early evenings and mornings roosting in the platform tree house. Red-billed oxpeckers are nesting in front of camp near the road from camp to Mbiza. Eurasian, Carmine, Swallow-tailed and Little bee-eaters have all been seen flitting through the bush, adding bright colours to the surroundings! An evening drive down the road from Linkwasha to Little Mak was surprising when three White-faced owls were seen sitting in the middle of the road together!


Botswana Camps
Chitabe Camp Newsletter - Dec 04                Jump to Chitabe Camp
Midsummer in the Okavango is a wondrous time of new growth and new life, infused with almost magical colours, scents and scenery- everything just seems so alive. Fireball lilies were the first wild flowers to burst into bloom with the advent of the rains, followed by a kaleidoscopic witches' brew of others - Flame Lilies, Wild Stockroses and Jasmine, Vlei Ink Flowers, White Plumbago, Poison Apples, Milkweed, Ragwort and Large Devil Thorn.
The birding is spectacular here at the moment, with all of our migrant visitors having arrived, as well as the residents putting on their breeding plumage and displays. Carmine and Little bee- eaters, all kinds of swallows as well as Purple and Broad-billed rollers swoop through the sky hawking those insects foolish enough to be flying around.

The outlying pans in the woodland are full of water, and support a great variety of water-loving birds: Wattled cranes, Knob-billed ducks, Saddlebilled storks, White- faced and Fulvous ducks and Egyptian geese, among others. This influx of birds, as well as an explosion in small mammals, has contributed to the arrival of many raptor species. The mornings in camp are a riot of birdsong, with all of the locals and visitors trying to outdo each other - the contest between the Red-billed francolins and the Woodland kingfishers continues!

At night, a chorus of owls provides evening entertainment - Barn owls, Scops and Pearl-Spotted owls fly around the camp and fireplace, and sometimes even pop into the bar to see what we are up to.
We have many Tree Monitor lizards on the island at the moment - taking advantage of the explosion in small mammal activity that the rains have precipitated, and they can often be seen creeping about in the trees and undergrowth.

Out there in the bush we have had some rain, mostly at night or in the late afternoons, the clouds and lightning creating spectacular sunsets for guests out on game drives. Everything is a glowing emerald green at the moment, and grazers have been rejoicing in a time of plenty. Large nursery herds of impala are everywhere, the little lambs the cutest little carbon copies of the mothers. Tsessebe, wildebeest and giraffe also have been spotted with young in tow.

On a sadder note, Snowdrop, our resident bushbuck, lost her lamb to marauding baboons a few hours after giving birth, but her lamb from last year is still here and we spot them regularly around the camp. The local reedbuck herd also remains in the vicinity.

Large breeding herds of elephant have been passing through the area. The great beasts haven't stayed around though - they appeared to be heading off to an important meeting somewhere at the end of the world.

The lions are one step closer to a real pride structure - there are two lactating lionesses, and so far we have spotted three cubs, and the male presiding over them seems determined to make more!  

Mosadi Mogolo, the small Acacia Road leopard female, is doing well, as is her cub, and the two of them have provided some beautiful sightings for guests. Near Robin's Floodplain, Lelobu, the big male leopard who sports a magnificent dewlap has been sighted regularly and one occasion, Newman watched him unsuccessfully courting a very shy (possibly disinterested) female. Leopard courtship can be a violent, noisy affair, as these normally solitary animals only join up for the purpose of procreation.

The wild dogs have also been sighted quite regularly, mainly the small Moonstone pack. Relax and his guests were lucky enough to be on the spot to watch them bring down and dismember an impala with surgical precision - the entire operation was over in three minutes, demonstrating their extreme efficiency as predators.

The Mogogelo pack seems to have split into fragments of it's former size. We think that Agate, the alpha female, left the pack with some subordinate males, while Rakaku, the alpha male, remained in the vicinity with  a few dohs. The rest have dispersed, probably to find their own territory. Chio from Moonstone's pack has also joined them, after an absence of some months when we didn't know where she was.

We had a visit from the Botswana Wild Dog Project researchers as they tracked and monitored these packs, and they provided us with a wealth of information about these amazing carnivores and their habits.

In terms of weather, it has been quite a sweltering month here, with average lows of 21 degrees, and average highs of 41 degrees. We had about 80mm of rainfall on the camp for the month, providing temporary relief from the heat and humidity.

All in all, December has been a wonderful month in the carnival that characterizes life at Chitabe, with a rich pageant of life, colour, song, wisdom, drama and some comic moments - a pageant that we invite you to experience!


Kwando Safari Camps Update - Dec 04

Lagoon camp                Jump to Lagoon Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* A couple of leopard sightings over the last week – the last was followed marking her territory 4 days ago.
* A male cheetah killed and ate a young impala yesterday.
* The pack of 3 African Wild dogs were seen regularly – were last followed hunting on Tuesday evening.
* They were followed hunting last week until they caught and killed a warthog.
* The Lagoon pride continue to hammer the buffalo in the area – a few evenings ago ago they killed 2 buffalo calves.
* Herds of buffalo as still frequenting the area but have dispersed into smaller herds with the rains having filled up all the pans in the area.
* Breeding herds of elephants are still frequenting the area but are tending to spend more time in the Mopane forests which are rapidly becoming lush and green.
* General game sightings have been excellent with all of the general game species in the area seen with their young.
* A number of sightings of African rock pythons as they come out of their winter aestivation as well as leopard tortoises since the summer rain.
* Night sightings yielded caracal, genet and porcupine.
* All the summer migrants have arrived making the bird-watching amongst the best in the area.

(Weeks 3-4)
* River/Lagoon Water levels are again stable following scattered rains.
* Pack of 3 wild dogs seen on several occasions.
* Good numbers of elephant breeding herds –esp. in the northern side of the camp .
* Regular sightings of herds of buffalo numbering 50 – 200.
* The lagoon pride of 14 have been seen on most drives, and were seen taking down a buffalo calf.
* A couple of leopard sightings over the last week.
* A couple of cheetah sightings during the last week as well.
* Hyenas were seen on most evenings.
* Frequent sightings of reedbuck to the north of the camp.
* Excellent sightings of general game – zebra, tsessebe, wildebeest, impala and giraffe .
* night sightings include genets, civet and porcupine.

Kwara camp                Jump to Kwara Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* 2 different leopards have been followed during the last week – both spending most of their time marking their respective territories.
* A couple of cheetah sightings over the last week – including a female that stalked and killed an impala lamb and a male moving through the area scent-marking.
* A pride of 17 lions was found a few minutes after having killed an adult buffalo – remarkably, shortly thereafter, they were forced off their kill by a group of hyena initially only 6 in number.
* A herd of 500 buffalo has been frequenting the area followed by 2 adult male lions.
* Scattered bachelor herds of elephant were seen throughout the concession.
* General game sighted included tsessebe, impala, kudu, lechwe, giraffe, wildebeest and zebra.
* Smaller game sights included genets and a large grey mongoose.
* Birdlife in the delta continues to be prolific with all the summer migrants in attendance, most of the chicks in the heronry are busy fledging.

(Weeks 3-4)
* Lions have been seen every day over the last week.
* 2 male lions followed a herd of buffalo for a few days, and finally pulled one down on Tuesday.
* Good numbers of buffalo have been seen every day due to the excellent grazing on the short grass areas that were burnt 8 weeks ago.
* 3 nomadic male lions passed through the area.
* Cheetah were seen twice, a female and 2 cubs, as well as an adult male chasing a tsessebe (unsuccessfully).
* 1 wild dog sighting, a pack of 4 moved through close to the camp, a different pack to the one seen last week with a radio collar.
* A female leopard was seen – one of the resident females, but was in thick grass.
* The Red Data species the Wattled Crane has been seen throughout the concession – max group of 5.
* A few elephants are still been seen around – but most have moved north into the Mopane in the north of the concession.
* Lots of tsessebe and impala with their young are attracting predators to the open flushing floodplains.
* Night sightings include Serval, civet and genets.
* Lots of Aardvark tracks but no sightings.

Lebala camp                Jump to Lebala Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* Excellent viewing of general game on the floodplains, impala, tsessebe, zebra, wildebeest, reedbuck, giraffe and lechwe all seen with young making easy pickings for the predators.
* Large numbers of hyena continue to dominate the area and are regularly followed moving out on hunting forays from their dens.
* Hyena were found shortly after they killed a young zebra and fed quickly before moving off.
* Buffalo are still being seen on the floodplains but have dispersed into smaller groups since the first rains.
* Elephants are being seen daily, moving in and out of the verdant Mopane forests.
* Nights sightings over the last week include a couple of civet sightings as well as African wild cat and genets.
* Also seen in the evenings were a number of different species of snakes.
* Summer migrants have arrived in full force, with the Woodland kingfisher and Black cuckoo calling incessantly in and around the camp.

(Weeks 3-4)
* Lots of hippo sightings around the concession including hippo grazing out of the water day and night.
* Breeding herds of elephant are still being seen around but many of them have moved south into the Mopane woodland.
* Buffalo are still being seen albeit in smaller numbers.
* A herd of 7 roan antelope.
* Excellent general game and their young on the floodplains.
* Hyena continue to dominate the area in large numbers.
* A leopard was found hunting lechwe as well as another which stalked and killed a warthog piglet.
* The lagoon pride has been very active to the north of the camp
* A pack of 3 wild dogs was fond after being tracked for a while.
* The surviving 2 from the old Lagoon pack was also seen.
* One evening drive yielded a mole-rat, pangolin, and a caracal as well as an African wild cat killing and eating a mouse.


Mombo Newsletter - Dec 04                 Jump to Mombo Camp
Summer at Mombo burns on... December was a particularly hot month, as expected, with maximum temperatures ranging from 22°C to 36°C (and almost certainly above 40°C on occasions - which is 110°F). Even minimum temperatures did not dip below 17°C, and climbed as high as 27°C. These scorching midday temperatures were greatly relieved however by cool breezes stirring in the palm trees, and the ever-tantalising promise of rain.

Following our brief closure for maintenance work in early December, the Camp is now radiant, the newly oiled woodwork gleaming in the sun. Like a fine red wine, Mombo Camp gets better and better with time. We have also made a few changes in the Camp to further enhance the guests' experience, including new bar areas at Mombo and Little Mombo, and new outdoor furniture to enhance those fire-side discussions.

Elephant in fron of Mombo CampThe sun's rays have illuminated a remarkable month of game viewing here at Mombo. The multitude, and variety, of game in this area is never less than breathtaking, and the excitement has been mounting with the temperatures. Add to that a few seasonal celebrations and you have the makings of another magical month in the Okavango Delta.

Daily events in the bush have been taking place against a remarkable carpet of green: there was an explosion of new plant growth following the few days of heavy rain we experienced earlier in the month - perfectly timed for the legions of recently-born impala, wildebeest, warthog and tsessebe. The synchronicity of life in the bush can be remarkable, and it is fascinating to see that animals such as impala instinctively know when the rains are due. Floodplains are carpeted with tiny yellow and white flowers, and the first flame lilies visible among the palm leaves. The flame lily is a spectacular floral inferno, which revels in the well-deserved Latin name Gloriosa superba.

Perhaps the most curious sighting this month has been of zebra, which have been behaving courageously and living up to their old name "tiger horse". We have seen them in full pursuit of wild dogs - understandably enough, as wild dogs are a known predator of zebra foals especially. Inexplicably however we have also seen zebras chasing banded mongooses.

The banded mongooses which live in Camp have had a much more peaceful time of it, successfully rearing several young, as have a number of the warthogs frequenting the Camp. Summer really is a time of growing up as youngsters of various species learn to cope with the trials of life - and to enjoy its pleasures too! Finding food and avoiding predators can sometimes be too much to do at once, as one warthog piglet learnt this month. In front of a game drive vehicle, a giant Martial Eagle swooped down on the piglet, seizing it in its talons and bearing it aloft. The warthog wriggled and squirmed for its life and somehow twisted free, falling to the ground again, remarkably unharmed. All this commotion had however attracted a hyaena, and it was left to the warthog mother to chase off the hyaena and prevent it achieving what the eagle had narrowly failed to. The young warthog lived to tell the tale.

Our young female leopard cub, now over 18 months old, is steadily becoming a more ambitious and competent hunter, having graduated from squirrels and genets to baboons and now sub-adult impalas.

Our young rhino calves are growing up fast. At six and eight months they have passed the stage at which they looked like over-sized warthogs - as their horns start to grow, they now look very much like miniature rhinos instead. There has been some upheaval amongst the re-introduced rhinos this month, with our dominant males trying to chase off the younger bulls, which are now reaching an age and a size where they can start to be a threat to the supremacy of the older bulls. The rainfall has prompted fresh grass growth in many areas, and, as we have seen in the past, the rhinos are moving back onto Chief's Island and into acacia areas to take advantage of this. We are now in our fourth year of having rhinos back at Mombo, and we have enough research data to start identifying trends and patterns. It is truly fascinating and a huge privilege to be among the first people to get the chance to study wild rhinos in Botswana in almost two decades.

But of course it is not just the rhino that fascinates... our lions have recently been demonstrating some "Duba Camp" behaviour: they have made the occasional daytime kill. Lions are opportunistic hunters, and they will kill whenever need and chance cross paths, but the majority of the kills we record here take place during the hours of darkness. It is not uncommon therefore to find satisfied lions on morning game drives, having feasted on a buffalo, giraffe or zebra overnight. The sheer numbers of game animals here support a very high density of lions, and on many recent nights, their roars have been in direct competition with the thunder of the gathering tropical storms.

These storms have begun to refill many of the dried up pans in the area. The heat of the sun ensures that many of these pools of rainwater do not last for long, and is also drying up the remaining pools and channels left over from the annual flood, providing a huge bonanza of besieged fish for birds and crocodiles. It is not uncommon to see a dozen or more different bird species at a single, shrinking pool - along with waders probing the mud for food. Everything from tiny, delicate stilts and sandpipers, to the massive pelicans and Marabou storks. Who'd be a fish in the Delta in December?!

We have also had many sightings recently of some of the rarer birds for whom the Delta is a sanctuary: giant and graceful Wattled cranes, Slaty egrets and Lappet-faced vultures. Plus a very unusual sighting of a Giant Kingfisher, its dagger-like bill poised to strike any unfortunate fish it might spy from its perch overhanging a stream.

And with yet another year having flown by, the infamous Mombo New Year's Eve party came around again... this year we really pushed the boat out - quite literally.
We placed mokoros (dug-out canoes) in a semi-circle around the lodge (echoing the defensive laagers of the early African explorers), and each canoe was filled with water and floating candles. Safely enclosed within this semi-circle was our candle-lit dining table - the perfect venue, under the stars, to indulge in the banquet specially laid on by our chefs. At the stroke of midnight, as we entered 2005, we had a small burst of pyrotechnics as forked lightning flickered on the horizon and lit up the inky black night sky. And the orange glow of a bushfire in the distance added to the spectacular display of lights. Just a few moments later, light rain began to fall, promising much new life and new excitement at Mombo in the next twelve months.

2004 was an awesome year here at Mombo - just when you think you have seen it all, the bush here throws up more and more surprises and every day there are new stories to learn, new dramas unfolding and new friends to meet.


South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Newsletter - Dec 04                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Leatherback turtles laying eggs at Rocktail Bay
Helping a Loggerhead turtle lay its eggs at Rocktail Bay

We have much to report from this last month of 2004. Many exciting events have come to pass.

The majority of the days have been filled with sunshine, beautifully calm seas and a pleasant cool breeze. The humidity has been high this month, with most of guests turning into “water-babies” for most of their stay. At the beginning of the month, we had a fair amount of rain, and it did wonders to the surrounding forest and grassland areas. Once the sun came out, all the new flowers were in bloom, the most widespread being the “Everlasting Yellows”.

The sea, on the other hand, seems to have had a mind of its own. Almost overnight, the sea turned from a beautiful blue to a green colour, and the water temperature dropped to a cold 17 degrees Celsius. It has since cleared, and warmed up to a more inviting 24 degrees. Neptune was obviously in a wicked mood.

One of the natural disasters this month, the Tsunami, wreaked havoc across the eastern side of the Indian Ocean. We had instruction from the Parks authority to evacuate all the holiday makers off our beaches. It is certainly safe to say that this is the first time in Rocktail’s history that we have had to evacuate people off our beaches. However, luckily no-one came to any harm and the effects of the Tsunami were limited to us seeing no turtles whatsoever on our nightly turtle drives on 26 and 27 December.

On a lighter note, we have had a new confirmed sighting of a very unique little mammal that has been avoiding us for years. Every evening guests sitting at the bar can always be sure of hearing the splash of water, as a flying object skims across the surface of the water in the swimming pool. On the night of 10 December, like clockwork, we heard the splash, and heard the leaves rustling in the tree above; we jumped up to get a look at this creature. Right there, captured in our torchlight in the tree, was a Wahlberg’s Epauletted fruit-bat (Epomophorus Wahlbergi). It glared at us, but showed no intention of flying away, and we were finally able to identify the mysterious water skimmer – most satisfying.

Around camp, another visitor is the Hinge-back tortoise that has become a regular at our buffet area. This little reptile has taken a liking to the attention it has been getting, and just keeps coming back.

An event that we expected was the arrival of the Ragged-tooth sharks at Island Rock. They have arrived, pregnant and seemingly very relaxed and we have counted about 20 of them, in and around Island Rock. Many of our guests this month (some sure, and some not so sure of how wise it is) have had the privilege of diving and snorkelling with these sharks.

December, as you all know, is that special time of the year when Father Christmas comes to visit. Rocktail was no exception this year, and Santa even made the journey all the way to Rocktail Bay to spoil the children from the Van De Wel Family. He surprised everyone, coming out of the forest “Ho Ho Ho’ing”. Eyes bulged and smiles appeared on people’s faces, as he sat down and began to hand out all the presents he had put under the tree during the night. He spent at least an hour with us, before leaving, and heading back into the forest. (Quite a bit of time for someone that has such a busy schedule.).

All in all, Christmas 2004 was a superb time, with perfect weather, a wonderful combination of good food and good company. To top it off, on the Christmas morning snorkelling activity, which took place in the bay of Rocktail, we were graced by the presence of six Bottlenose dolphins surfing the waves, just behind the snorkellers. For some, that was the best Christmas present of all.

December also means the end of a year, and we celebrated Rocktail-style: by having a Toga party. It was a great celebration; with a feast to would have made the Romans look feeble. As the clock struck twelve, champagne flowed, and 2005 was upon us.


Rocktail Bay Dive Report - Dec 04                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Ragged-tooth shark at Rocktail Bay
Wow! Wow! Wow! The checklist whilst out diving has been seriously successful and all in just one month: Whale shark….tick, sharks …..tick, Leatherback….tick, dolphins….tick. We’ve lost count how many seasons we have experienced in the past few weeks, the ocean has been playing riot with sea conditions with varied visibility of 4 – 25m, stunning blue warm waters and some shockingly cold dives, 17 degrees Celsius if you please!

Our first sighting so far of a whale shark was early on this month. Surfacing at the end of the dive, a beaming skipper Clive uttered the magical words: “Whale Shark”. Some of us have waited for a very long 12 years to see one and this was to be The Day! The squealing from the snorkellers started from there on in. “A shark the size of a whale, is that good?” asks one hesitant diver. “You bet it is, now get in,” was the reply as she was helped over the side of the boat. This was not an opportunity to miss. A beauty 6m in length , we jumped in and snorkelled alongside and even touched it until we just could not keep up!

On the same day, a Leatherback of some senior years (judging by her enormous size) was spotted not so far from the boat, calmly bobbing along the waves. Again, mask, fins, snorkels on, gently slide in and we were lucky to see her duck dive - with just couple of strokes with those powerful flippers she was gone. To snorkel with a Leatherback turtle, no matter how brief, is a rare and wonderful experience.

Have I mentioned the snorkelling with dolphins? They have been coming and going all month. Clive has some fantastic footage on his underwater video camera of us all swimming above a very playful pod of bottlenose dolphins. Including their newest member of the family who was extremely small and therefore very cute. We saw spinner dolphins earlier that day too!  

The dive centre’s newest acquisition is a fantastic new underwater video camera that is rarely far from Clive and Michelle’s side. The library of diving footage is increasing daily and of superb quality. You can now enjoy watching your dive experience starting from the brief, launch, boat ride and your time underwater. A great holiday momento.

The Ragged-tooth sharks have arrived in their numbers and fairly early on in the season. Island Rock is overrun with hormones as these heavily pregnant ladies cruise around the reef, no doubt feeling very large. The markings on their backs from the vigorous encounters with the males during mating season down south in Durban are starting to heal, although some have been left with nasty looking wounds. As they enjoy the warmer waters for the summer month’s gestation period we have experienced some memorable dives swimming amongst them with some close encounters. The impressive ‘thwack’ of the tail as one sends a warning sign resounds across the water and the ‘cruise-by’ sends diver heart beats racing and air consumption rocketing. Up to 10 raggies swimming in front, beside and inches above your head is an unforgettable experience. As we lie low on the sand one will gently swim towards us, as she approaches the number of sharp teeth become unerringly clear with the build up of algae turning the teeth ominous black - as she stopped eating some time ago. One diver enjoyed a raggie swim overhead but not without seeking reassurance from the dive guide. As Jerry could not find my hand to hold, he settled for my calf, and as the raggie got closer the grip got tighter, and as she swam overhead so my blood flow ceased to circulate!

Groups of snorkellers have also enjoyed raggies as they are seen coming up and gulping for air on the surface to keep their neutral buoyancy over the reef with minimum effort. One group of 10 snorkellers hovered over 14 raggies in 12m clear blue water!

Nudibranch fanatics would not be disappointed with the number of sightings we have had of late. All types and colours imaginable, they never cease to amaze. The advantage of poor visibility allows us to concentrate on the smaller inhabitants of the reef and we have been spoilt. A stonefish was also a handsome find.

Rays are now commonplace on almost every dive. HUGE round ribbontail on Pineapple and Gogos Reef, 15 eagle rays swam around like butterflies circling lucky snorkellers before they were gone. Honeycomb rays on Pineapple Reef particularly and sharpnose rays.

Sand sharks are back for the summer and black tip sharks have also been spotted on several dive sites. Aliah on her qualifying dive saw a tawny nurse shark, a treat to see!

Turtle sightings have been plentiful both on the beach and during our dives. Each time a joy to watch.

Now we have unexplained cold waters of 17 Degrees Celsius and thermoclines that you do your best to avoid! The viz is unusually bad for this time of year but no one has been put off as the fish are plentiful, as shoals of spadefish, fusiliers, snappers, parrotfish and kingfish together with the usual reef fish had made every dive a pleasure.


Namibia camps
Ongava Newsletter - Dec 04                  Jump to Little Ongava
The month of December was a very good month all round. We had fantastic occupancy levels, as well as excellent animal sightings.

As to be expected for December, the days were very hot, but with cooling winds in the afternoon, which lasted into the evenings. For Christmas we hoped that the wind would stop howling, but no such luck. Maybe it was just as well, because this wind brought us the much-needed rain, which we all hold so much hope for in this dry, beautiful country. On 30th December we experienced a lovely downpour with 9mm of rain recorded. Traditionally, Namibia experiences the “small rains” in October to November and then the “big rains” from January to March. Our “big rains” had started, much to our delight.We had thrilling lion sightings at the waterhole nearest to the lodge the week before Christmas, as well as over the Christmas weekend. The lions lay in the shade of a bush near the waterhole for an entire day. One evening, shortly before Christmas, the tawny cats could be seen patiently watching the antelope and giraffe approaching the water for a drink. The antelope and giraffe were naturally very put off and nervous, snorting and blowing a lot, increasingly frustrated that they were not able to get their much-needed drink of water. The lions finally moved from their snoozing place and chased down their prey successfully. We found a freshly killed giraffe about a kilometre from the waterhole the next day after the previous night’s “stake out” by the lions. Later a male lion killed an oryx in front of bungalows 11 and 12. The guest must have slept deeply as they did not see or hear the kill, but nevertheless the next morning the rest of the animal was evidence enough. These guests seemed to be lion-magnets – as they also had a lion sleeping under their veranda wooden deck during another night!Two to three black rhino and a baby came to quench their thirst at the lodge’s watering hole almost nightly – delighting guests and staff alike! We even experienced a short courtship between a black female rhino and her chosen beau, whom she then decided to cast aside for her second preference. The new suitor chased the first ‘boyfriend’ away into the bush with much snorting and an impressive display of his testosterone-laden dominance.

One of our field guides had an amusing incident. He and the guests spotted a lioness with her kill - inside one of our hides! Good thing our guide spotted her first in that very shady, secure and sneaky spot. Wonder whether she used the place to hide and spot her kill from there???


Little Kulala Newletter - Dec 04                  Jump to Little Kulala Camp
The newly rebuilt Little Kulala Camp

Little Kulala has finally opened its doors again (after the fire) and we welcomed our first group of guests on the 20th December.  

Despite the heat and windy conditions, the guests enjoyed their daily excursions to the dunes and also the Nature Drive in the evenings. Sleeping on the roof has now become a priority for the guests and the new pool is being used to its full capacity.

Unfortunately we have not had many animal sightings at our water hole yet. A few oryx have visited and one or two springbok.

We ended off 2004 with a lovely braai (barbecue) for our guests – but they were all too exhausted to stay up until midnight. That’s the hectic life in the desert!


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