Namibia & Botswana 2017

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

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Longing to return to Namibia and Botswana, we decided to try travelling just after the rainy season, in the hope of filming all the young animals and capture the different scenery.

 

The 2017 rainy season in Botswana was exceptionally wet with many areas flooded. So we definitely captured a different scenario. The grass was long, trees in full leaf and green. The rivers were gushing and flowing, resulting in many roads being closed due to flooding or huge crater pot holes. In many cases, the roads were in such poor condition that it was safer driving off of the road, away from the huge potholes and continuous corrugations.

 

Packing our Land Rover Discover 4 with all of our gear was easier this time and we knew just what to do and where to pack. Removing the seats in the second row gave us more space and The Blackmagic Camera, Canon lenses, DJI Osmo and DJI Drone all had their cradles for protection and easy accessibility. The rest of the car was packed in hard plastic containers with a huge net over it to keep everything in place over the rough and bumpy roads and then the Thule box on the roof gave us the much needed extra space for camping gear. 

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

 

Our desert and bush adventure began with a first night stop over in Springbok at Kokerboom Motel which was conveniently situated on the N7 and we even managed to capture some drone footage of the stunning rock formations of the area.  Next stop was the incredibly beautiful Canyon Lodge. From here we visited and filmed the Fish River canyon, Quiver tree forest and the unusual rock and boulder formations in the area. The Klein-Aus Vista, Desert Horse Inn was a great stop where we filmed the Garub wild horses. This area has had a dreadful drought and so the horses were being fed and water supplied to them to ensure their survival. Staying in Luderitz at the Luderitz Nest Hotel we visited the Diaz Cross and then moved onto Sossus Dune Lodge Chalet, visiting and filming Sesriem canyon, Dune 45 and Sossusvlei. Be sure to catch the Vlei while the sun is rising, as the light is perfect and the photographic opportunities endless. Passing through Solitaire on our way to Swakopmund, we popped into McGregors Bakery in Solitaire for their famous Apple strudel and ice-cream...a really yummy treat in the middle of nowhere.

 

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

We also managed to film the mysterious Fairy circles that are circular patches on the ground varying between 2 to 15 m wide. Their origin is not certain but two theories are suggested. The one is termites clearing circles under their nests and the second explanation of the circles are explained by plants competing for water.

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

 

Next stop was Swakopmund, which has grown so much that we could not even recognise it. Staying at Bon Hotel, we visited and filmed the Welwitschia mirabilis plants and for the very first time saw both male and female plants in flower. Some of these plants are known to be 1500 years old. We also managed to film some of the Namibs majestic sand dunes and visited the Kristall Gallerie which had some amazing crystals on display and is well worth a visit. Our favourite restaurant was The Tug. This is a very popular restaurant, so be sure to make a booking.

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

 

We were also hoping to get to Spitzkoppe, but unfortunately, we had a knocking noise on our Land Rover’s back wheel, so we had to spend our time getting this seen to. On contacting the accredited Land Rover repair centre in Walvis Bay, Novel Ford, Walvis Bay. We were thrilled when Danville, their Landy technician, had a quick look and fixed the problem in a minute. It was only a hand brake cable that had jumped out of a restraining clip and was knocking on the rim of the tire. Whew!

 

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

Heading North we passed the Salt works which have a collection of salt ponds which are a birds haven. Along the side of the road, keep your eye open for huge salt crystals that one can buy on an “honesty jar” payment system. On route to Terrace Bay, we stopped and filmed the largest Cape Cross fur Seal colony, where a staggering 250 000 seals frolic in the sea and laze about on land. Please, do remember that the Skeleton Coast National park gates close at 15.00 hours.

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

 

Upon arrival at Terrace Bay Namibia Wild life Resort, we found that our accommodation had been upgraded to the Presidential suite/house, where President Sam Nujoma used to spend his Christmas holidays. Although we are not fishermen, being vegetarian and all, we still had so much to enjoy in the area. From the rumbling agate pebbles on the beach, the sightings of jackals, hyenas, seals, dolphins, visiting Torra Bay, the dunes, searching for the desert lions, the great food and the absolute peace that was so therapeutic, this is a great place to unwind. In the mean time, the fisherman with us, Terry, managed to catch and release 40 fish in just 9 hours of fishing. Needless to say, he had a permanent grin on his face while we were there.

 

On our way to the Dolomite Namibia Wildlife Resort with its wonderful rim flow pool but awful staff service, we were so fortunate to meet Dr Philip Stander who shared some insight to the Namib Desert Lion Conservation Project. So sad to hear that the last of the five Desert Lions, stars of The Vanishing Kings documentary, has recently been killed. How ironic.

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

 

We then stayed in Etosha for three nights. Two nights in Okaukuejo, where we managed to book the premier water hole chalet 34w. Wow, do try book this chalet as it has an unobstructed private view of the waterhole and you are sure to see the Black Rhino on his late evening visit to the waterhole. One can literally view the water hole from your private upstairs deck. We also spent one night in Namutoni. Etosha had received a lot of rain, so the bush was thick, high and green. Viewing animals was not easy. We did not see the large herds that Etosha is so well know for. In fact, we saw very little and would not return at this time of year again.

 

Moving on, we returned to Ngepi and stayed in our favourite Tree house chalet for two nights where we swam in the caged pool in the Cubango/Okavango River, full of Crock's and Hippo's, went for walks, listened to the hippos chuckling and leopards growling across the river.

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

 

Our road trip from Ngepi to Dinaka was quite stressful, with the roads in Botswana being in such poor conditions, with huge pot holes, that it was at times safer to ride off the road, on the side rather than on the road. We finally arrived after 10hrs diving (for a distance that should have taken maybe 6hrs) at Dinaka  

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

 

We then drove to the Khwai Community Camp area, where once again, we were treated like kings by the fantastically organised Swampland Safari Trails for 5 nights. It was a magical experience in the bush with all our meals made, tents set up, showers supplied every day, and the brilliant Game Ranger, Max, as our guide. One night we had two roaring male lions 15m away from our tents, the wild dogs ran through our camp and we even had Hyenas through our camp at night. We forgot to pack our food box back into the car one night, only to wake the following morning with evidence that the Hyenas had dragged the box away from our tent, opened it up and guess what they ate????....Ferrero Rocher Chocolates, Lindt Chocolate and long life milk sachets....they clearly have good taste. They slobbered over everything and left the crisps, biscuits and Almond nuts. Spooky to think they were just outside our tent. Do NOT leave any food outside, even if it is in a closed crate! Stupid us!

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

The bush in the Khwai area was very thick and the grass long after the heavy rainy season that Botswana had, so this made viewing the animals and driving the roads more challenging, as we had a few rivers to cross and many of the roads were closed due to flooding. During our stay, sadly, an Elephant died next to the river. No one knew why it had died but what was amazing was how nature and animals instinctively take on their roles of getting food from the dead carcass. There is a whole system that the animals have worked out and it begins with the birds pecking at the eyes and the Hyenas taking the first meal, as they have such powerful jaws they can penetrate easily, then all the other carnivores can get stuck in.

 

This is a truly special area and I do hope that the Khwai community will enforce a limit to the amount of tourism that the area can take, so as to conserve this special place and its wonderful wild animals that we all so enjoy viewing. A very special thank you to Louis Milne and his team for a great safari. We will return.

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

We then drove on to Gweta Lodge. We were warned about the very poor road conditions between Maun and Nata. The road had pot holes and was flooded either side of the road for miles on end, but we did manage to get to the lodge quite safely, passing the “Road Closed” signage and were told that the road from Gweta to Nata was the one in really bad condition, but the locals had made a secondary bypass road next to it for easier commuting. Returning to Gweta lodge on our second visit, we were so pleased to see Helen, James, Shayna and all the staff again. We were spoilt to another night sleeping on the Salt pan and we managed to get some great footage of the pans with the flooding water in the distance, the magical sun rising and some more Meerkat footage of them baking their bellies in the warm sun. Do take a drive to Planet Baobab, have a drink or a meal or a stay and see the majestic trees.

 

We also visited and filmed the Nxai Pan area including the huge Baines Baobab area. The roads in the pan were challenging, with ruts and poor conditions noted but we did manage to get about slowly. Do NOT access the road that runs parallel to the boundary fence road. STAY ONLY on the fence road. The other inside road, shown as the main road on their map, is in a dreadful condition and is the worst road we have ever experienced. With deep loose soft sand and even deeper ditches, this “Road” was quite a challenge, but our Disco 4 just kept ploughing on until we got back to the junction with the boundary road. We were suitably impressed by our cars abilities. Note to self, get a better cargo net system to secure all the goodies inside the car and stop them from moving around.

 

On our way to Lekhubu Island, we decided to stay overnight at Letlhakane, at Motswedi Hotel. We, fortunately, had a Satellite Phone from Swampland Safari Trails for safety and connectivity should we have had any major problems as we were driving Solo. We wanted to get an early start to Kubu just in case we had any road issues, therefore, decided to spend the night over in Letlhakane, the closest town to Kubu. Fortunately, we had an easy two and a half hour drive over the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan to Kubu, we pitched our tent and then set up for filming the sunset, stars, Baobabs and Makgadikgadi Salt Pan. This is a Gaing-o-communty trust run area and it is very sad to hear that people are abusing their staying at Kubu by arriving late and not paying their dues. So the area is to be fenced off to control/restrict movement of vehicles and a resort construction will start by, we were told, December 2017. I do not understand people that wish to abuse the environment or the community. So SAD. We do hope this area will be protected at all costs.

(These images are frame grabs from our 4K film Stock shot during this trip)

 

Having some business to tie up in Gaborone, we stayed at the Peermont Walmont at the Grand Palm for a few nights where our favourite restaurant was the Fig Tree. We were very fortunate to visit and stay with our dear friends Harold and Geraldine Hester in their lovely home and celebrated at the Mokolodi Nature reserve restaurant.

 

Our last stop was at Langberg Guest farm before we headed back home. Having travelled almost 10 000 km’s and visited 17 different destinations it was good to be safe and sound back home. We are thrilled at how our Land Rover Discovery 4 has preformed during our 6 weeks safari travel.

 

Special Thanks

 

Special thanks to all our friends Carol, Terry, Kathy, Martin, Reg and Shakila for their companionship and support and to Louis Milne and the Swampland team for a magical time.

 

Tips for Namibian trips

1. If you are close to The Namibian Wild Life Resort centre in the City centre of Cape Town, do become a NWR member with your yearly Namleisure card. Pop into this extremely well organised centre and the helpful, friendly staff will book and arrange your accommodation and your valid Namleisure cards will allow for some amazing discounts on your accommodation bookings.

2. We also made a few bookings with the Gondwana Collection of lodges, so having a SADC or Namibian Gondwana card, that is valid for 5 yrs, allows for further amazing discounts and is well worth applying for. 

3. Many fuel stations in Namibia do not have card facilities and many will ONLY accept cash. They accept payment with Namibian dollars or South African Rands.

4. At Sossus do book your accommodation within the park gates, as this gives you a heads up to getting to the tourist attractions before the crowds and buses.

5. If you are passing through Solitaire do pop into McGregors Babery in Solitaire for there famous Apple strudel and ice-cream...really yummy treat in the middle of nowhere.

6. The poor road conditions and in particular the dreadful corrugations were not pleasant and limited ones ability to maintain the suggested road speed, resulting in added time in getting to your destination.

7. Please, be aware of the varying opening and closing times of park gates, especially if your accommodation is with in the park, be sure to arrive at the gate before it closes. E.g. Skeleton Park gate closes at 15.00.

8. Novel Ford Walvis bay is an accredited Land Rover dealer and repair centre.

9.  If you plan to visit Etosha, Okaukuejo Camp, book the premier water hole chalet 34w, it has a fabulous private clear view of the waterhole from its upstairs deck.

10. Stay in your car when in game parks.

 

Tips for Botswana trips

1. Most fuel stations have 50pp diesel.

2. NEVER pass a fuel station without filling up, as some do run out of fuel and the next one may be out of range.

3. Remember to keep P1000 in your wallet at all times for any fines. All fines have to be paid in Pula ONLY, otherwise your passport, or more, can be held until you pay up and you will be escorted to the closest town to make payment arrangements. Many speeding traps are set up just before you are leaving Botswana on your way back to South Africa. With any luck you will return to South Africa with the P1000 still in your wallet. 

4. Always stop your vehicle dead still at all stop signs. Failure to do so may incur a fine. Specifically at makeshift Police Check points that can spring up anywhere. Stop at the Stop sign, which will be 15m or so from the Officer, wait to be summoned by the Police Officer and stop again as you get to him/her.

5. There are many veterinary fences and foot and mouth road blocks, many of which, you will have to dip ALL your shoes into the solution provided. So, keep ALL your shoes readily accessible.

6. Do NOT drive at night. There are too many wild animals, not to mention the cows, goats and donkeys on the roads that are a huge accident risk.

7. Remember to take Malaria precautions....long sleeves and trousers, insect repellent and medication.

8. Take a set of spare car keys with you and extra batteries for your keys.

9. Ensure you have sufficient tools, food and water in the event of a car breakdown.

10. Buy a local cell sim card. I recommend, B Mobile cell for the best bush and city coverage. If one is travelling alone a Satalite phone may be hired.

11. Do not leave any food outside when you are camping in the wild. Keep all food safely in your car.

12. The road between Ngepi, Shakawe, Tsau, Seithwa and Maun is in poor Condition with so many pot holes that it is at times easier to drive off the road, on the side of the road.

13. The Road between Maun and Gweta was closed but we did manage to go through it . The road stretch between Gweta and Nata is very poor but the locals have made a secondary bypass road next to it for easier commuting.

14. Do Not try and access Le Kubu Island from Nata area if there has been heavy rain. We went via Letlhakane and had no problems at all.

15. In the Nxai Pan area: The roads in the pan were challenging, with ruts and poor conditions noted but we did manage to get about slowly. Do NOT access the road that runs parallel to the road running along the fence. STAY ONLY on the fence road. The other inside road is in a dreadful condition and is the worst road we have ever experienced, with loose soft sand and very deep ditches.

16. Do contact Swampland Safari trails for all bookings and any assistance you may need. Speak to Louis Milne .

17. Road speed sighs are often missing for long stretches. Be careful as there are many speed traps

18. Use a huge net over your luggage, to keep everything in place over the rough and bumpy roads

New Zealand 2017

(Please note links and trip advisor reports are active on highlighted words)

North Island

Travelling once again with our favourite airline Singapore Air via Changi airport, we arrived in Auckland and picked up our hired vehicle from ACE rentals.

We were not terribly impressed with Ace Car rental services, as we received a car with an unroadworthy spare tyre, the staff member who we dealt with, was not at all helpful and we had issues with their insurance policy, as described by her. We will not be supporting ACE car rentals in any of our future bookings. This was our first encounter with New Zealand service and we where shocked. Fortunately, the rest of our New Zealand encounters were extremely pleasant! So let us continue on a better note...

Our first two magical weeks were shared with our dear friends Tom Campbell and Beth Davidow in the far north reaches of the stunning North Island. Tom and Beth went out of their way to show us all the spots that made them fall in love with New Zealand and purchase property there.

The above images are all frame grabs from our 4K RAW video stock.

Filming with our DJI Inspire 4K RAW Drone, BlackMagic Production Camera 4K, DJI Osmo 4K RAW and two 4K GoPro hero4 Black cameras, we managed to capture some of the beautiful landscapes, with rolling hills, thick natural native Kauri forests, gorgeous bays and stunning sunsets and sunrises. Often visitors/tourists only go as far North as Kerikeri, but we urge you to go all the way to the picturesque CapeReinga, where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet and drive down the NinetyMile Beach (at low tide) on your way back.

The above images are all frame grabs from our 4K RAW video stock.

We were very fortunate to take a stunning boat ride on Toms boat to one of the top dive sites, namely “The Poor Knights”. How lucky were we, with perfect sea and diving conditions, good visibility, loads of fish, a few Rays, stunning surroundings, sea caves, the Blue Maomao Arch and the superb company of our hosts. Rikoriko, the largest sea cave in the world, is huge and Tom even drove the boat into it. What a thrill! I am still pinching myself!

We visited a number of locations on land, all of which were exquisite and unique. It feels like a dream....we were able to anchor in quite safe bays, pull into harbours to refill our dive tanks and had an absolutely magical time. We took the tender boat at Whangamumu and strolled around the old whaling station. From Whangaroa Harbor, to Whangamumu Harbor, Cape Bret, Opua marina, Tutukaka marina, Whangaihe bay, the stunning Bayofislands, Whatuwhi Penninsular, Kari Kari and Mauitai Bay the North of New Zealand is truly beautiful.

The above images are all frame grabs from our 4K RAW video stock.

 We celebrated our 30th wedding Anniversary while on this trip and enjoyed a wonderful dinner with our friends at the hotel Restaurant of Ramada Resort Reia Taipa Beach

Far too quickly and it was time to start heading South. Two weeks on the North Island was not enough time to even scratch the surface, but just enough to fall in love with its beauty and come to the realization, that we would have to return again. On top of it all, we were totally spoilt by Tom and Beth, driving us around, showing us all the spots they hold dear, sharing all their knowledge, time and space. We are truly indebted to them both and hope they will visit us in South Africa, so that we can return the huge favour and once again share their wonderful company.

South Island

We then drove to Hamilton, staying overnight at the Mill Lodge and the following morning, continued on to Wellington. We passed the steaming volcanic thermal vents outside Taupo and staying over night at the Ibis Hotel where we caught the Blue Bridge ferry to Picton and continued to Fox Glacier via Westford the following day. At Westford we stayed at Bazils Hostel & Surf School and we had dinner at the Denniston Dog Restaurant and Bar.

The above images are all frame grabs from our 4K RAW video stock.

We had a lovely stay at The Misty Peaks at Fox Glacier. Unfortunately, the weather for a few days was gloomy, wet and windy and made filming almost impossible, only managing a brief visit to Fox glacier between the storms. It is understandable that this area is covered in Rain Forests. As stunning as Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier are, it's quite scary and worrying that they have receded 800m in the past few years due to rising temperatures. Global warming?? We had some really yummy food at The last Kitchen while staying in the Fox area.

The above images are all frame grabs from our 4K RAW video stock.

The weather followed us on our travels from Fox all the way down the stunning Haast and Queenstown area to Fiordland and Te Anau. Here we stayed at The Fiordland National Park Lodge, We used it as a home base while visiting Milford Sound and the Fiordland district. We had a pleasant ferry trip around Milford Sound, booked with “Encounter” on the “Lady Bowen”

Do remember that there are no petrol stations to fill up your car between Te Anua and Milford. By this point, the weather had cleared sufficiently and the ferry was able to take us out into the Tasman Sea. What breathtaking scenery! Our favourite restaurant in Te Anua was Ristorante Pizzeria Paradiso Da Toni Restaurant

Driving through to Dunedin we encountered 200km of mist, that was blown away the following day by strong easterly winds which hampered our filming opportunities, not to mention how cold it was. We kept trying to warm up camera batteries close to our bodies, as the 9c air temperature kept giving us warnings. We stayed at Alcala lodge.

The above images are all frame grabs from our 4K RAW video stock.

Dunedin is a gorgeous city, filled with history, rolling green hills, scenic roads and beautiful surroundings. We visited the Royal Albatross centre, only to find that it was impossible to film these magnificent birds because the colony is very small, only 23 birds and one is viewing them from behind glass, at the observation point, which makes filming impossible. We hope that the measures taken will ensure their protection.

We spent our last day filming around Dunedin, with perfect weather conditions and stunning views. The Otago Peninsula, Dunedin was truly gorgeous!

All too soon it was time to return home with a domestic flight back from Dunedin to Auckland on Air New Zealand. Wow, we were impressed with Air New Zealand! From the very efficient telephonic booking to the fabulous airport lounge in Dunedin and the superb flight.

We stayed in Auckland, at the very convenient Jet Park airport conference Hotel, for our last night in New Zealand. Then our last leg of flights was with our favourite airline Singapore Air flying from Auckland to Singapore and finally connecting to Cape Town.

TIPS/POINTS TO REMEMBER

  1. Take layers of clothing, including a decent rain Jacket.

  2. New Zealand may not have any venomous creatures but the Sand Flies are amongst the most annoying insects in the world and their bite itches forever. Take insect repellent and wear clothes that cover legs and arms.

  3. Most B&B's Motels etc. provide all toiletries, coffee, tea and 500ml fresh milk daily.

  4. The I stores are very helpful and informative in providing information and booking accommodation.

  5. If you are not pre booking all your accommodation (we did not) take care to check for any Rugby fixture games at your destination, as these impact availability.

  6. Comparing South Africa's pricing to New Zealand we found the cost of living to be at least double and travelers from Europe and USA echoed this surprise. eg. A large pizza SA: R100 NZ: R200 to R240 , Petrol in NZ R20 -R23/l ; Diesel in NZ R10- R12....so hire a Diesel Vehicle.

  7. Do remember that there are no petrol stations to fill up your car between Te Anua and Milford Sound.

  8. A camper van is ideal for traveling around New Zealand. There are many areas to park for the night and all the camp sites, that we saw, are clean and well managed.

  9. Jet Park Airport conference Hotel, in Auckland, was very helpful as they stored our dive bags in their locked store room, while we traveled around the country. Picking them up on our final nights stay in New Zealand.

  10.  Be aware that some Hotels in Wellington do not have car parking facilities. Parking in the city center is $4 an HOUR!!

  11. If you wish to be on a quite Milford Sound ferry tour, be sure to book the earliest tour, on the smallest ferry. By 10am the buses start pouring into Milford sound with hundreds of tourists.

SPECIAL THANKS

A very Special Thanks to our Dear Friends Tom Campbell and Beth Davidow for an absolutely magical time in the far north of North Island, for your guidance, accommodation, amazing company, hospitality and generosity.

    So just to finalise... we loved New Zealand and got RAW 4K footage of the thundering Marian waterfalls, Humbolt falls, Humbolt mountains, Eglinton Valley, thermal vents, stunning aerial footage of many areas, the Rikoriko cave, Cable Bay, Cape Reinga, 90 Mile beach, Native Kauri forests, stunning bays, Poor Knights area, Fiordland area, Fox Glacier, Lake Matherson, Mt Cook, Waterfalls, the Otago Peninsula, Careys Bay, Dunedin etc. etc.

    Do contact us if you are looking for any footage.

    SIP4Stock Tropical Showreel 2016

    This short Showreel is a small extract from all our 4K Film Stock shot during 2016, that was not filmed in Africa and therefore, not showcased in the "SIP4Stock Africa Showreel 2016" in our previous Blog post.

    Destinations included in "SIP4Stock Tropical Showreel 2016" are, Cocos Island - Costa Rica, Raja Ampat - Indonesia and The Maldives. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you require any further information.

    BOTSWANA SEPTEMBER 2016

    What a wonderfully successful trip we had to Botswana. Along with some stunning 4K RAW drone footage of landscapes, the delta and baobab trees with Vulture nests, we were also fortunate enough to catch numerous animals and birds, displaying stunning animal behaviour.

    Notably are sequences of Lions mating, Leopard dragging it’s Impala kill up a tree to eat, Wild Dog kill of an Impala, Wild Dog eating and then regurgitating food for their pups once back with their litter, a leopard charging, White Rhino behaviour, White Backed Vultures flying in to land, bathing at a water hole and stripping a carcass, Open Billed Stork scavenging and removing snails from their shell’s, a Spoonbill Stork working with a Black Herrin (symbiotic relationship) to corner and catch food, Savuti Lions and their cubs, Elephant and her new born suckling while others were eating and playing, time lapse sunsets with silhouettes of Baobabs, Twin baby Baboons with their parents and much, much more.

    We started our long road trip leaving Somerset West in the early hours of the morning and spent a very pleasant night at Kimberly, Mckala Guest house  

    (My agoda review: Safe parking for your car. Comfy bed and rooms. Hot showers. Convenient kitchenette ) Our next stop was the Peermont Mondior Gaborone in Gaborone please read my report on this here. We filmed the rapidly growing Gaborone city and some of its new buildings. We were very fortunate to spend a few nights at the lovely Phokoje B&B just outside Gaborone, where Anne and Jim Dayton ensured that we have a wonderful stay and the included breakfast was superb.

    We managed to Visit our friends Harold and Geraldine Hester and Sandy and Janet Kelly who opened their homes and shared their time with us. Geraldine invited us to an Informative Star gazing dinner and presentation, that she gave, on the astronomical highlights in the night sky at the Mokolodi Game Reserve which is a well run annual fund raiser for the reserve. A wonderfull evening was had by all.

    Next stop was the Khama Rhino Sanctuary please do read my poor review . Despite emails requesting positive intervention to the Manager, as well as to the Government,  I have sadly had no response.

    Lekhubu Island was our next stop. Nectar was an absolute gem in handling our bookings and queries. It was wonderful meeting him at their office in Botswana. The road from Letlhakane to Lekhubu was not bad at all and pretty much straight the whole way. On our journey from Lekhubu to Gweta however, we decided to take the track across the pan and got lost for two hours despite Two Garmin’s with Tracks for Africa loaded . We encounter lots of soft sand and bushes that were way too close to our vehicle and we have loads of scratches as proof of our first ever “proper” 4x4 route. Lekhubu was magical and we can not wait to return there.

    Next stop was Gweta Lodge.  We loved our stay with Helen, James, Shayna and Mothusi. We had a magnificent nights sleep on roll down beds on the pan with dinner under the stars, the Ngxhaishini Fossils and a visit to inquisitive Meerkats on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans. Mothusi was our exceptionally knowledgeable guide and I urge anyone passing through Gweta to stay at Gweta Lodge. Do read my review here.

    We stayed at Nata Lodge next, reviewed here. We had relaxing sun downers at the Nata Bird Sanctuary. The following night we spent at Island Safari Lodge, Maun in very pleasant pre-erected tents, with private bathrooms. While in Maun give yourself a treat, to a highly recommended hour long scenic flight over the Okavango Delta.

    Our two night stay on an Okavango house boat is not something we would recommend, but maybe we were just unlucky. The room bedding was dirty, the dinning space was crammed and the boat itself did not move at all, it just relocated a little further up river, to get away from the other house boats. It took 3 hours to get to the house boat on a never-ending, winding river with very little other than a few African Fish eagles to see. The only part we did enjoy was the Mokoro boat trip, where the water lilies and hippos were stunning.

    Ngepi was fabulous please read my review. The Bwabwata Natinational park and Mahango Reserve were quite rewarding too.

    Our next stop at Thebe River Safari in Kasane, was very pleasant, read my review. During our stay in Kasane, we arranged a day trip to Victoria falls, Zimbabwe which we truly enjoyed and our Helicopter flight over the falls was magnificent! We were in the air for only 13 min and we really would love to repeat this but next time hopefully for the longer flight time (27min).

    Our three nights at the Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane was superb, a little bit of luxury in the middle of our African Safari. Do read my review for more information. We did our own safari game drives in Chobe National Park and were so fortunate in spotting Lions, Leopards, Elephants crossing the Chobe river using their trunks as snorkels, baby Elephants suckling, huge herds of Water Buffalo, Wildebeest and Impala and many Hippos, not to mention the amazing birdlife behaviour that we managed to capture on 4K RAW film.

    We have been so lucky to have been introduced to Louis L. Milner (Skype address   swampland.safari.trails ) of Swampland Safari. What an amazing company he runs. Anyone going to Botswana is really missing out if they have not arranged at least part of their visit with him. We had 5 magical nights with Swampland Safari, two in Savute and three in Khwai, where we film our best encounters. We slept in two man bedded tents that were set up for us, including an en-suite bathroom, and while they were very simple, they were more than adequate. Our fabulous food was freshly prepared by the friendly, helpful Jona and LT. Our Tour Guide and Game Driver was Max and he was fantastic. He knew how to read the bush and exactly where to go and what we would find. Indispensable information for a film crew.

    We were blown away by our first day viewing and it just kept getting better.  We managed to film Wild dog and their pups hunting and killing, Lions mating, baby Elephants so young they were stumbling over their own feet, Hippos yawning...it was truly mind blowing!!! A huge thanks to Louis and his staff for an unforgettable safari. We look forward to another trip with you!

    Too soon and it was time to head back home. Staying over night at the convenient, comfortable Kang Ultra Stop Please read my review for more details.

    Our last stop was in Kimberly where we stayed at the Protea Hotel and, obviously, my review is here.   We spent our final day before heading back home at the Big Hole in Kimberly and were fascinated by all the history that we got to learn about. The Big hole museum was well worth the visit and we managed to get a few clips of the area too.

    We arrived home safe and sound and ready to plan another trip to return to Beautiful Botswana. Soooooon!!!

    Please don't hesitate to contact us, should you be looking for any further information relating to the adventure, or any of our previous ones.

    Special thanks

    Lastly, we wish to give a big, Special Thank You to Carol and Terry forbeing our fantastic Safari buddies and backup party during the bush waking stage of the journey, where we lost the tracks more than once, and to Carol, Terry and Ian, for being our, Silent and Motionless, fellow adventures, when they were stuck with our filming needs on the Swampland part of the expedition. THANK YOU!!

    Cocos Island, Costa Rica 2016

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    We were thrilled to be invited to join Tom Campbell   and Beth Davidow  on a dive trip to Cocos Island.

    After 39 hours of traveling by plane (4 flights) from Cape Town, South Africa to San Jose, Costa Rica, a brief two nights sleep to recover, at the comfortable Radisson San Jose-Costa Rica ( Please read my trip adviser report here), a further 3 hour bus ride to Puntarenas and finally 36 hours, of unpleasant sea conditions, by boat, on the Undersea Hunter, to Cocos Island, 550km off the coast of Costa Rica. A total of 78 hours traveling, ONE WAY, to dive and film magnificent Sharks!

    We will really think twice before flying with Lufthansa again though, as the ground service was dreadful, apart from one very efficient and helpful staff member at their lounge in Frankfurt Airport. Fortunately, our return flights were with Swiss air, who were super organised. The three hour bus ride from San Jose to Puntarenas was well organised and comfortable. The 36 hours boat transfer was unfortunately in unpleasant sea conditions, so be sure to pack your sea sick meds.

    The staff on the Undersea Hunter were fabulous, the food fantastic and the diving was great under the given circumstance. It was full moon and the highest tides of the year, resulting in strongest currents. As a result, we were unfortunately not able to get out to many of the outlying dive sites, which are frequented by the stunning animals that we had come to see.

    Despite the poor dive conditions, the dive leaders always made a plan and we did get to see many sharks.  Do read the trip report on this link. Juan Manuel was our star director and he and all the staff made our trip on board the Undersea Hunter absolutely magical.

    We were able to visit the rangers on Cocos Island and were pleased to see the huge conservation efforts that they undertake.

     

    So, was it worth it?.................absolutely! Just to be in the presence of those magnificent sharks was a dream come true. Just picture a huge Tiger Shark looking straight at you from maybe a meter away.....bliss! We really would love to return again and hope that the weather conditions would be more favourable for diving and filming.

    Till next time, we hope the rangers are able to continue protecting this vital area and all the marine life it embraces.

    Botswana 2016

    Great things are really coming our way ! Yahoo!!

    We were recommended by our friend, Sandy Kelly to his contact at Birdlife Botswana, Harold Hester (Chairman BirdLife Botswana,Nature Chobe Project leader) and Kabelo Senyatso (Director BirdLife Botswana, Nature Chobe Project deputy leader) who were looking to promote Nature Chobe.

    Nature Chobe is a new conservation project that is being driven by Birdlife Botswana. One of its aims is educating people in a sustainable way of life. It is in its initial phase of development and we are very proud to be part of this innovative project.

    Here are some frame grabs from the 4K stock footage that we shot............

     

    We flew up to Kasane, Botswana and spent our time shooting for a promotional film for Nature Chobe.  We also managed a visit to the African Falcon Services and met Megan Stewart, Ricardo Soriano and their amazing team in Pandamatenga, Botswana. Their exceptional work at protecting farmers crops from the devastating flocks of red billed Quelea using Falcons is phenomenal.

    We were also fortunate to meet and interview Jonathan Gibson(CEO Chobe Holdings Ltd), who donated 48ha of land for the Nature Chobe Site and Prof Mike Bruton (Mike Bruton Imagineering, Managing and Advisory Consultant for Nature Chobe) who is internationally recognised for his work. We feel truly privileged to have shared time with such a dedicated and dynamic team.

    Having managed to film some outstanding footage and interviews, we wish the Nature Chobe team everything of the best and look forward to working together again.

    Here is the Nature Chobe Promotional film..........

    Raja Ampat 2016

    We were thrilled to be invited to join the “Barker and Friends Trip” on our favourite Seven Seas liveaboard to Raja Ampat, Indonesia and it was an outstanding trip filled with our fantastic Seven Seas crew, fabulous diving with large schools of fish, beautiful breath taking top side scenery and to top it all a group of warm, friendly divers!! Wow, how lucky where we?

    The Seven seas Cruise Director Karl Klingeler, the very experienced Captain Mr. Wahyudin Ismail and his team ensured we had a magical trip, looking after us with yummy food, exceptionally great diving and making sure that our every need was met.

    Here are some frame grabs from the 4K stock footage that we shot............

    Here is a link to the official Seven Seas trip report,

    Roll on 2018, as we have already book our next “Barker and Friends Trip” and will be returning to Raja Ampat and our Seven Seas Family. Let the good times roll ! Can’t wait!

    Last day or two in Paradise

    Last day or two in Paradise

    The trip home.................................... on cloud nine.

    The trip home.................................... on cloud nine.

    Ecuador 4K Stock Showreel

    Just off the coast of Ecuador, about 44km from the fishing village of Puerto Lopez, lies a small Island called Isla de la Plata. It plays host to an unprecedented Giant Manta Ray phenomenon every year and we were privileged to witness it first hand in the company of Dr Andrea Marshall and members of her Marine Megafauna Foundation team. Check this short Showreel and make your booking on the next     "Ray of Hope Expedition".

    We were also very fortunate to have been able to spend time with Hanli Prinsloo and Peter Marshall from the "I Am Water Foundation" as they trained us for our level 1 Apnea diving certification.

    Lembongan 2015

    Flying with our favourite air line Air Singapore with direct flights from Cape town to Singapore and then a short connecting fight to Denpasar, Bali was pure pleasure. We decided to book our stay in Lembongan at Blue Corner Dive as they have fabulous dive report ratings. Our airport and Lembongan transfers with Rocky Fast Cruises were also arranged by Blue Corner Dive and these were well organized and smooth.

    Just a tip here: One may need to wade through water, depending on the tides, getting on and off the Rocky Fast Cruises. Wear appropriate clothing (eg. Jeans that you can roll up, to above the knee at least).

    We had a fabulous time at Blue Corner Dive. We did two dives a day and then spent the rest of the time filming topside. Do read my trip advisor report here.

    We were fortunate to see a Mola Mola but to be honest it was a very brief encounter. We had another Magical Manta encounter and we so enjoyed the sunsets, warm water, fabulous food, comfortable accommodation and wonderful team at Blue Corner Dive.

    We were pleasantly surprised to see that litter was being collected by the Villagers in huge bags and do hope that this incentive continues and that recycling will be a way forward.

    We also had an exceptionally good dive leader, Made P, and we are already planning another trip to this wonderful destination.

    Meeting Dr Sylvia Earle

    First Six Hope Spots launched  in South Africa by Dr Sylvia Earle
    4 December   -   13 December 2014
     
    Russ and Barbara van Aardt were thrilled and humbled when meeting the famous Dr Sylvia Earle, a world renowned Marine conservationist and National Geographic explorer. This meeting took place during her visited to South Africa, at the official Launch of the Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot in Hermanus.

    The first six Hope spots launched by Dr Sylvia Earle in 2014 were:

    1. Aliwal Shoal in KwaZulu-Natal.
    2. Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape.
    3. Plettenberg Bay.
    4. Knysna.
    5. The Cape Whale Coast (Hermanus area).
    6. False Bay in the Western Cape.

    Mission Blue defines a Hope Spots as special conservation areas that are critical to the health of the ocean — Earth’s blue heart.”

    "We were in awe of  Dr Sylvia Earle's dedication and achievements" Barbara said, "a truly inspirational conservationist."

    Dr Sylvia Earle with Barbara and Russ van Aardt.

    Dr Sylvia Earle with Barbara and Russ van Aardt.

    Maldives

    27 March – 12 April 2015

    Barbara capturing some 4K GoPro footage of two Reef Manta Rays.

    Barbara capturing some 4K GoPro footage of two Reef Manta Rays.

    This trip was organised through Pro Dive. Russ and Barbara's first week was on a liveaboard the MV Virgo. Do read the following trip reports: Their report and Barbara's review.

    Stunning Maldives sunset.

    Stunning Maldives sunset.

    The rest of our time in Maldives was spent at a boutique hotel called Casa Mia.

    Do read Barbara's tripadvisor review.

    The diving was good and three dives in particular were exceptional. The one was Dinoluga Manta cleaning station where they spent their entire one hour dive at 12 m depth with Mantas circling the cleaning station that was packed with schools of fish. What MAGIC!

    The other two exceptional dives, were sunset/night dives at Maaya Thila . This was a one hour boat trip away but was well worth the ride to see the Sharks, Jacks, Rays and Eels frantically searching for their “dinner.”

    South Komodo, Indonesia

    28 January – 24 February 2015

    It was absolutely wonderful repeating this trip with our Seven Seas Family” said Barbara.

    Tom Cambell and Beth Davidow once again arranged a great trip with many familiar divers from Russ and Barbara's previous trip that they had developed a great bond with. Barbara added that, “The diving, company and crew were superb and we enjoyed our trip immensely

    A huge coral bommie at 24m depth, nicknamed 'The Super Bommie', was alive with shimmering glass fish, soft and hard coral and sponges. Majestic Manta Rays at cleaning stations, breathtaking top side shots around Padar Island and the Pink beach, stunning sunsets, Komodo Dragons and hatching clown fish eggs were but a few of the great photographic highlights.

    Being their second time here, Russ and Barbara van Aardt had a good idea of what to expect, where to find it and what shots were required to compliment the previous years footage.

    Do read this trip report written by our lovely friend Sonia Goggel which includes stunning imagery captured by our good friend David George.

    Storms River, South Africa.

    28 December – 02 January 2015

    Russ filming in the Tsitsikama pine plantations.

    Russ filming in the Tsitsikama pine plantations.


    Being the Festive season in South Africa meant that the roads would be full, and all the resorts would be packed to capacity. So, not particularly liking crowds of people Barbara van Aardt booked her family into the stunning Armagh Country lodge and Spa. This is tucked away in the fyn bos, far enough from all the maddening crowds. What prize location had Barbara stumbled on? What bliss!

    They had decided to leave their dive gear behind for this trip but had some really wonderful top side photographic opportunities. This area is full of fun filled activities. They explored the Featherbed Eco Experience and particularly enjoyed the view of the majestic Knsyna heads from the Featherbed Nature Reserve.

    They managed some unusual footage on our Storms river Kayak and Lilo trip up the Storms River. This fun filled activity is run by Untouched Adventures and is something that can be highly recommend.

    The Tree Top Canopy Tour, run by Stormsriver Adventures was exhilarating fun and seeing the forest floor from zip lines high up in the tree canopy gives it a totally different perspective.

    They managed to do quite a few day hikes, including the first day of the Otter Trail and The Big Tree (A Yellow Wood Giant :±800 years old, 9 meters wide and 36.6 meters high) and parts of the Tsitsikamma East Forest.

    So their photographic opportunities ranged from bubbling brooks, swinging on trees, admiring huge green ferns, cascading waterfalls, floating on brown cold mountain water and many more. They had a great time at this picturesque South African location, that is an easy five hours drive away from Cape Town. Barbara said,“Definitely somewhere we will return to.”

    Palau

    12 June – 03 July 2014

    Russ and Barbara van Aardt received an email from Tom Campbell and Beth Davidow asking them if we would like to join the Palau trip, as two spots were open due to a last minute cancellation. “Well, we jumped at the offer, as we could not think of anything nicer than spending more time on a liveaboard with Tom and Beth." Barbara said.

    Yet again, they were blown away at how Tom and Beth were so willing to guide others. It was another wonderful trip shared with warm like minded friends.

     Both top side and underwater photography proved to be very rewarding. The beautiful lush green islands and stunning cloud formations were beyond amazing. Russ and Barbara enjoyed the Jelly fish Lake, the sharks, large expanses of hard corals, the wrecks and dives like Chandelier Cave.

    They were also VERY fortunate to be able to film in another jellyfish lake. One that had not seen a camera crew for 14 years or so, specifically, Uet era Ngermeuangel “Big Jellyfish Lake”. Tom and Beth managed to get approval for this expedition, which turned out to be very productive indeed.

     The trip was booked with Fish n Fins. This very well managed Dive Company is owned by Navot Bornovski & Tova Harel- Bornovski. Read Barbara's review on this link.

    South Komodo, Indonesia.

    3 January – 21 January 2014

    This unforgettable trip with the amazing Tom Campbell and Beth Davidow was just “meant to be”. Russ and Barbara van Aardt had been included in the initial emailed invitation to join this trip via a good friend (Thank you Rob Barker!!) who kept encouraging them to experience the fabulous Seven Seas liveaboard.

    Initially Russ and Barbara said no to the offer but were approached again, this time by Beth Davidow, a few months before the trip, when there was an unexpected cancellation and they were able to fill the spot. The trip was organised by Tom and Beth, and they had the positively energized Dr. Andrea Marshall (Manta Queen) from the Marine Megafauna Foundation on the boat as they were filming some footage for Ocean Gems episodes.

     This was a life altering trip. It was absolutely MAGICAL......Tom and Beth shared their knowledge and expertise and Russ and Barbara are forever in their debt as a result! This was the trip that resulted in the van Aardt's upgrading from HD to production quality 4K.

    Tom gave informative and awe-inspiring presentations and talks. Endless notes were made on how to improve our filming. He answered all their questions and they can clearly see how his guidance has positively impacted their footage. Russ and Barbara added that.....“We feel very humbled to have met such worldly people, willing to share information and give guidance selflessly!

     Andrea shared her love for the Ocean and Mantas, and Russ and Barbara were privileged to have been part of the team that identified 63 Mantas in a ram feeding frenzy. Andrea's presentation was very touching and powerful and she managed to persuade all on board, to stay another day in the area, as she knew that this frenzy was going to reoccur the following day. So the liveaboard stayed in the area and all aboard were thrilled to share the water for a second day with these Magical Reef Mantas. Russ and Barbara wish Andrea every success for her huge efforts on conservation . Here is a link to her Trip report.

    Komodo Dragon on beach from boat into camera Litter 2.7K GoPro 25p 24 3 14-01-1453.jpg

     The Seven Seas liveaboard crew are like a happy family .”They all work together making every effort to ensure that your every need is seen to. From the exceptional Crew and Cruise Directors Karl and Linda, to Ayu and Chandra in the office, their happy enthusiasm is such a pleasure to be around and we look forward to seeing our Seven Seas Family again.” Barbara said.

    The diving was exceptional and the photographic opportunities endless!

    Lembeh Strait, Indonesia.

    29 November – 11 December 2013

     Returning to Lembeh Russ and Barbara decided to stay and dive with Two Fish divers.

    Know as the muck diving capital of the world, Lembeh is a photographers paradise. Their dive guide was highly skilled at finding all sorts of unusual critters and was a great asset under and above the water. The night dives proved to be very successful too. From the Pygmy Sea horses, the large range of octopus and frog fish, to the endless other critters, Russ and Barbara were fortunate enough to have encountered most of the critters that were on their “wish list.”