December 2019 / January 2020
When Robbie and Lize Prehn, owners of Pondoro Lodge, helped me, way back in in 2013, to select a Marula tree for the development of Viva Safaris’ Marula Tree Boma, it was winter and the Marulas had no leaves.
It is possible to determine the gender of a Marula by close inspection of the leaves.
We were concerned that a female Marula would produce fruit that attracts elephants that would damage the tree. We built a 4 metre wide barrier of loose rocks all around the Boma to try to put off any intruding pachyderms but I was nevertheless concerned. I was overjoyed to note that by 1 January 2014 ( the day we officially opened the Boma to our first tourists ) there were no signs of fruit and, indeed, the tree was a male.
Elephants are very partial to Marula fruit and we have noted recently a reduction in our elephant population in Olifants West, where Tremisana Lodge is located. I am told that there have been more copious rains in Kruger, east of Olifants West, and the elephants have migrated there to indulge in the early fruits of Marula trees located there. Of course, the elephants will return to eat our later crop of fruits.
There is no truth that elephants get inebriated on fallen Marula fruit.
I noted a nice touch last year when Pretty and Riana introduced Amarula Liqueur at the Boma. All our guests are given a complimentary shot as Pretty toasts Africa, the guests’ safari and the Marula Tree.
Well done !!
GAME-VIEWING REPORTS FROM OUR GUIDES
As there are two months’ worth of reports, I have taken the liberty to edit, thus avoiding turning a newsletter into a lengthy journal.
Walks have been good. We have seen hippos, elephants, bushbuck, waterbuck, impala and kudu regularly. Crocodiles and giraffe put in an occasional appearance. Drives on Oxford and Cambridge1 have been good with sightings of all Big Five. The hyena den has elicited numerous “oohs” and “aahs”. Kruger Park as always is excellent with guaranteed sightings of general game including Wildebeest that are extremely scarce, almost absent, on Olifants West. Elephants, lions and buffalo were always seen in Kruger by my grateful guests.
After lunch we took the S100 and we saw a female leopard lying down under a tree in which there was a dead impala. On the S126 Sweni road near Mudzandzeni picnic spot we saw two big male lions lying down under a tree. Guests were happy that we saw the Big Five in one day.
18th December from Orpen boom gate to the reception we saw general game including zebras and impalas. On the H7 at Phelwana bridge we saw a big herd of elephants crossing the road. At Mudzandzeni picnic spot we saw a big male lion lying down very close to the road. On the Sweni road we saw four old buffalo bulls drinking water at Welverdiend waterhole.
On the S 100 we saw two white rhinos and then we saw a female leopard lying down under a tree. We saw three cheetahs crossing the H7 heading south to Nwamatsatsa waterhole. Big Five plus Cheetah in one day!!
It is nice and green and the animals are happy.
On a Sunset Drive we spotted two buffalo bulls at Tremisana Dam. On Oxford we saw hyenas, giraffes, zebras, impalas and lots of elephants with babies. When we reached Marula Boma we saw two honey badgers.
On a Sundowner Drive we saw a big pride of lions at Rosies. My clients were very excited. We went down to the Olifants River where we saw 28 hippos while we were looking at the sun going down.
07th Kruger : at Nsemani Dam we found big herd of elephants. On the H1-3 we found a big male leopard. At the Sweni waterhole we found 10 Buffalo bulls right next to the road.
10th : Olifants West : Three male Lions at Oxford. The rest of the pride, lionesses and subadults, at Rosies pan. On Rome 1 we found two Rhinos and on near the Boma we found a male leopard. Right at Marula Boma we found a big elephant.
24th Olifants West : on the way to Bejwana dam we found a big white rhino. Then we found a big herd of elephant. A leopard was seen near Marula Boma.
25th Olifants West : We noticed leopard spoor near Ngwenya dam – we followed the spoor and were rewarded by an unforgettable sighting of three leopards on an impala kill.
December started off slowly in terms of sightings to the frustration of all, but gradually it picked up later in the month and towards the end of the month we had the most amazing sightings.
We had very good rains and with that, the Impalas gave birth so there was plenty of oohs and aahs from all the guests when we came across them. We came across 4 different herds that gave birth at different times during the month.
Highlights this month included 12 Giraffes at one spot and on one sundowner drive we spotted Zebras on 5 different locations.
The big herd of 60 Elephants were spotted at Rosies, but the Matriarch was not very impressed with our presence and we left them in peace after the guests got their memorable photo’s.
The Olifants River is flowing very strongly now and for that reason the strong current has forced the Hippos to move from their normal spot. The Crocs were more visible on the banks and varied in size up to 5m long.
A Leopard was spotted at the Marula Boma regularly.
Other highlights included Hyenas, Honey badgers and Porcupines at Marula Boma.
And on a sad note, but unfortunately that is nature, a baby giraffe was pulled from his mother by a lion while she was busy giving birth.
We hope everyone had an amazing Christmas and we wish all a prosperous New Year!!
3rd December: A day with soft rain, sightings good : lions at Orpen, elephants at Kingfisherspruit, leopard crossing s12 ,buffaloes s100.
6th: Lions Rabelais, buffaloes s39, lots of general game h6 , two white rhinos and elephants Sweni road.
12th: Lions Sweni , leopard near Tshokwane, rhinos on Nhlanguleni road, buffaloes s36 Ximangwanini dam, elephants Mundzandzeni.
23rd: Lions h1-3, Wild Dogs Nkaya Pan, leopard on s33, buffaloes before Mazithi dam, elephants Kumana dam.
25th: Lions at Satara, Leopard s100, buffaloes and elephants Sweni road, Mundzandzeni lions again, two secretary birds at Rockvale.
27th: S100 lions with cubs, at Satara camp lions with buffalo kill, elephants s100, buffaloes s100 and h7 Ngwenya kaya, hyenas on the road on h7, more lions on Rabelais road.
December was a wonderful month.
It was quiet early month, but as we got busier the animals did their part and we had Lion and Rhino sightings daily.
The highlight of the month was on Christmas day. On the morning drive, we saw a beautiful black rhino cow and calf. On Barnards we saw a white rhino bull and shortly after that an Eluzweni guide directed us to a male lion – all just in 40min. On the Sunset drive Raymond told me about a leopard on Barnards and my luck held strong and we saw it.
That was the first animal my guest saw. I headed in the direction where I had seen the male lion in the morning and located him on Olifants road. I found the same black rhino cow and calf. While at the sighting I heard a lion roaring and he was heading our way. He walked straight towards the rhinos and went and lay down within 30m of them and it was great.
In Kruger National Park my guests requested to see lion and leopard ….. but very close to Tamboti Camp road we saw two male cheetah hunting a blue wildebeest calf.
On the H7 very close to S106 exit we saw a big male lion crossing the road. We also had great luck in seeing Wild Dogs.
On Olifants West we have had good sightings of Black Rhino.
It has been an interesting month in the bush. The transformation has been radical and beautiful with many flowers having sprouted after the long-awaited rains and the grass and bush is thick and lush. Sightings have been good but it’s the flora that has been so attractive to the Viva guests – all the trees are in the process of being pollinated by a huge array of insects, thereby attracting predatory birds which add to the colour and beauty of summer in the bush.
Guests at Masango, Katekani and Marcs have been awed by great rhino, buffalo and leopard sightings we have been gifted with.
After copious rains, the animals are looking better and their coats looks shiny.
On the 26th we had a great time: Lions feeding on a Wildebeest, Leopards on an Impala kill and Cheetahs hunting.
NEWS FROM OUR LODGES
MASANGO CAMP by Jordan
It’s been a very busy month at Masango, and we have received guests from all walks of life.
This camp is becoming very popular and I think it has a very bright future.
KATEKANI and MARCS by Charl
We wish all our guests the best for the festive season and a blessed new year.
Katekani has been very busy this December with lots of new friends being made. We had a lovely Christmas dinner at our boma with our guests given the opportunity to enjoy their dinner under the African sky with a nice big fire just adding to the atmosphere. We were very fortunate to have other (wild) guests join us for dinner with a pair of honey badgers and our now resident female hyena who frequents the boma every night at dinner just popping her head in to check on Tiger’s cooking.
Marcs is the busiest of all of Viva’s accommodation establishments in terms of bed nights. Our staff have worked hard and, like all the Viva staff at all the lodges, appreciate the Christmas present and the bonus paid in December !
Black and White Rhino sightings are fantastic !
TREMISANA by Riana
December is always a special month at Tremisana. Not only is it Christmas but also a very busy month with guests from all over the globe visiting here.
Guests were lucky to spot a Nyala inside the lodge on more than one occasion and the little grey Duiker also likes to lie down often in the shade on the cool grass inside the lodge.
We had lovely rain, but also scorching hot days and guests loved to laze around the pool.
Our laundry ladies had a scare when they discovered a boomslang at the entrance door, but we caught it and released it safely in the bush. We also saw a lot more scorpions around.
A little Terrapin was also spotted making his way from the waterhole to the lodge. The hyenas and jackal often frequented the waterhole and the Impalas with their newborns are adorable.
Elephants, buffalos and Kudu also came to the waterhole while guests were having their meals.
GAME-VIEWING REPORTS FROM OUR GUIDES
On the 19th January 2020 we saw zebras and impalas between the Orpen gates. We saw a big herd of elephants crossing the road on the S 39. At the Timbavati picnic spot we saw three lionesses lying down by the river. Near the Timbavati bird hide we saw a leopard asleep up a tree.
After lunch we took the S100 and saw five big Buffalo bulls near Xibotwana. On the S126 Sweni road we saw a pack of Wild Dogs. Missed the Rhino – worrying how few we are seeing.
It’s nice and green and the animals are enjoying themselves. It is hard to view the game because of the thickness of the bush.
On my Sunset Drive on Oxford, we saw a big pride of lions. I was happy to see how excited my clients were – they were very happy. On their first drive seeing the lions it was amazing. At Mhisi kaya we saw 7 hyenas playing around and at Rosies we spotted one big elephant drinking water.
On an afternoon drive to Campfire and we saw 3 big Male lions – it was amazing and then they started calling and the sound was marvellous !!
I was just saying hakuna matata
Nature will always surprise you. As I drove back to Olifants road we saw giraffes, kudu, lots of impalas. When we reached Marula Boma, the place we were having BBQ dinner, two hyenas came and honey badgers as well – it was amazing to see them there.
On the way back from Boma near Barnard airstrip I spotted a black rhino.
It was an amazing night !!!
Bush Walks have been good with sightings of hippo, crocodile, elephant and giraffe.
Sundowner Drives and Sunset Drives have yielded all Big Five and I am pleased with the number of Black Rhino sightings this month.
Not so at Kruger, where I often have had all Big Five except the rhino.
We had some special sightings in Kruger including Wild Dog, Cheetah, Sable Antelope and Ground Hornbills.
January has been a good month and I had some exciting moments in Olifants West. After some good rain, the bush is beautiful and the Olifants river is flowing strongly. I saw a few snakes this month including a 1.5 metre Boomslang on the way back from Boma. It was in a red bushwillow very close to the road and we could all view it nicely.
Unfortunately elephants have been scarce and only recently saw three bulls on Oxford. But the lion sightings have been good and rhino as well. I still often see the male White Rhino.
The best sighting this month was of a young leopard. This leopard is a regular visitor at Marula Boma and Elvis, chef at Boma, sees it just about every day. We got lucky on a Sunset Drive when Pretty called and informed me about the leopard at boma. After already seeing some lions I thought its worth a try. On arrival there at 18:15 Elvis pointed to a vervet monkey alarm calling in the big Marula tree. After a while, with the help of Elvis we found the leopard. I offroaded to within a good distance and the leopard was relaxed. We were able to take a lot of fantastic pictures and spent time with the cat up until 7:13 when it was almost an hour and I said we better go and eat. The guests all had a wonderful unforgettable experience.
3rd : Raining but sightings were good : lions s106, buffaloes t junction h7 and s106, elephants Nsemani Dam , Leopard on s100.
7th : Wild Dogs h7, elephants h7 timbavati river, lions s100, buffaloes s100, general game s100, two secretary birds on s100 waterhole, white rhino on s 36.
14th : Elephants Nsemani dam, buffaloes after Nsemani dam, lions and cubs with a buffalo kill on s100, leopard on Sweni road.
17th : Lions Nkaya pan, leopard before Kumana dam, elephants Kumana dam, buffaloes before the last gate.
22nd : Sightings good : lions after s127 road towards Ngotso dam ,buffaloes s40 near Nsemani dam, cheetahs s100, elephants nsemani dam .
24th : Lions t junction s106 road, buffaloes s106, elephants s100 and at Ngwenya kaya, buffaloes and elephants on Sweni road, hyenas h7 road, brown snake eagle eating snake next to the road.
I have taken a few Sunset Drives on Motlala – it is a brilliant reserve !
2nd : Olifants West : On Marula road we found three big male Lions in the road.
8th : Olifants West : We found a white rhino drinking water near Campfire. From there we got Lions at Imagine Africa South of the Dam lying down. From there we got a leopard at Barnard by west of Shigamba dam. We got three of the big five within two hours.
14th : Kruger : Wild Dogs on H7 walking on the road near Nsemani dam. about two km to the dam.
23rd : We found two Buffalos behind the parking area at Tremisana lodge. From there a white rhino on Cambridge 1 and then a pride of Lions on Oxford. Within 30 minutes we had seen three out of five all very close to Tremisana lodge.
It has been another hot and rainy month at Marcs and Masango camp.
Really fantastic sightings even though the bush is so thick and lush, guests have been privileged enough to see a lot of leopard activity and rhino activity as well.
With the rains come the migrating birds and most of them feed on the fat flying termites who are to be the new kings and queens and start colonies which make up the huge termite mounds we see today.
Masango guests have been very happy and I think sitting around the campfire has a special energy and has its romantic way with visitors. Connie and Caroline have perfected their menus and we have very, very happy guests.
What an amazing start we had for 2020!
On one long morning drive we came across 12 Wild Dogs. Almost immediately thereafter we encountered 3 beautiful Black Rhinos.
Lions were spotted frequently, to the joy of the guests. On one afternoon drive we saw a Pride of 22 as well as 3 male lions close by. As we left the lions, we saw 9 Elephant Bulls at Campfire and were also lucky enough to see 2 Black Rhinos. We drove to Tremisana Dam, and with all the luck on our side we saw 3 male Buffalos. That was really the cherry on top. 4 out of the Big 5 in a matter of 2 hours. The guests were very happy!
For some reason the Elephants were nowhere to be found for around 2 weeks.
The Olifants River always produces good sightings in terms of Crocodiles and Hippos and one morning on bushwalk we saw 2 huge Crocodiles at least 5m long.
To really top off everything, we saw 4 female lions fight over an Impala after a good chase.
In January, guests had the experience of fantastic white and black rhino sightings. On one drive the white cow was so close to the vehicle that we heard every munch of her dinner.
We were exceptionally lucky on the 7th of January : after the Motlala drive, returning to Katekani with guesst, I spotted a young male leopard! We followed him down the road and spent about 30 minutes with the beautiful youngster.
NEWS FROM OUR LODGES
TREMISANA by Riana
So here we are in 2020 with the first month on its head already! Time flies when you are having fun, and our guests certainly had lots of fun this past month.
All the guides reported excellent sightings and that made for very good conversations at mealtimes as well as good memories and good photos.
Weather wise we did not receive as much rain as we hoped for, but the bush around the lodge is still lush and green. The Marabou Stork is nesting again close to the Lapa and there were quite a lot of rock monitors seen around the lodge. Snails as big as a man’s fist trotting along and lots of little gecko’s are also running around. A small terrapin made its way to one of our water features and it seems as if he found his forever home.
The garden in Tremisana lodge looks like a paradise – thanks to our dedicated garden workers. With temperatures soaring around 38-40 degrees some days, the guests found their tranquil spot in the pool and they certainly had lots of fun doing that.
Many guests find a quiet spot in the garden and then practise yoga or do a little meditation. What a wonderful place to do just that!
MASANGO CAMP by Jordan
We have had visits from buffalo and Black Rhino.
The nyala are around and a large herd of impala frequent our dam.
Guests are thrilled at the level of meals and accommodation at Masango and we often get complimented. They say we are living up to the title of our 3 day safari : “ Best Value Affordable “.
MARC’S AND KATEKANI by Charl
Marcs is looking good. Thanks to Jordan, who is a very capable woodworker, we have some lovely new tables and other artefacts.
The nyala are healthy and seem to have increased in number.
At Katekani, we have constructed a new thatch umbrella just outside the Lapa.
NEWS FOR OUR TRAVEL PARTNERS
2019 will go down as a remarkably successful year for Viva Safaris.
It was the first year in which we had departures from Johannesburg EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR.
I doubt we shall have 365 departures this year.
The figures issued by the Tourism authorities indicate there was a 15 % drop in international tourists to SA compared to 2018. I am pleased to report that our numbers increased by 12.5%. over the same period.
All at Viva Safaris can be very proud of this achievement.
As I write this newsletter, the news of the Corona Virus epidemic from China is grave – it will certainly affect international tourism.
I have noted that our more recent tourists, possibly driven by reduced financial means, are booking shorter packages. It looks like we are in for a tougher ride this year.
ANNUAL ORPHANS PARTY
We held our annual orphans party at the Acornhoek Catholic church. 30 young people were given a great party and a big hamper of goodies to take home.
The hamper included cooked chicken, various tins of food and maize meal donated by Martin of Pick n Pay, pizzas donated by Berti of Drakensig Motors, stationery donated by Tess and Laurence Saad of Ezulwini Lodges and yummy home-made biscuits donated by Gerda and Wynand Britz of the Rome 1 property where we do our famous Bush Walks. To all of you very special and generous people, I wish you God’s best blessings.
Thanks to Father Aldrin and our staff and my friends and family that gave of their time to go to the church and make this such a memorable occasion for these young people.
I attach the following reviews posted in December 2019 / January 2020 :
– Shekar C, Los Altos California
We took the 5-day Tremisana Lodge Safari with Viva Safaris and in summary we got what we expected in the safaris, and our expectations far exceeded in terms of people and Service at Viva Safaris. Here are the details:
We were picked up promptly by Viva Safaris (Dan) from Johannesburg Hotel, and the travel was very comfortable. It was helpful to have a restaurant menu ready in the car, and to order them ahead of our arrival to save time. Well planned. The food place was moderately priced and the food was very good. We found the food was more than what we expected, nevertheless, we too doggy-bags, so none was wasted. Dan was very helpful and a happy person to make the journey very comforable.
Instead of going through day-by-day, here is the summary of details of our safari. We had Bush Braai, Morning Bush walk, evening Sunset Drives, a day-long Kruger Park visit, and visitation to Moholoholo Rehabilitation center . All of them were very good, and was made exceptional by the Rangers from Viva Safaris. We were clear on the fact that seeing animals are not guaranteed, but the rangers made every effort to make sure we saw a good majority of animals, including 4 out of Big 5, and many others. Their continued explanations were very useful, stopped wherever we could, to see those animals near and crossing etc.
A sunset drive to Tshukudu Game Reserve, where they have the Big 5 in the reserve was included and it kind of guarantees to see more of Big 5 up close and personal too. These were all included in the package.
We were a group of 10 and we are all vegetarians. The extent to which the kitchen and staff went to make us feel at home was unbelievable. It is not an exaggeration to say, that we’ve had some of our best vegetarian dishes in Tremisana, considering the fact that we travel extensively around the world.
Even though we did not meet Piero in person, it is too obvious on the culture and hospitality he demands from his staff and it clearly showed. People were very customer focused and were willing to do whatever they could do.
I want to call out the names of the rangers, whom we got to know more and these were exceptional: Subusiso (Victor), Bongani (Fortune), Charl, Rex, Caiphus, and Cap; on the administrative side, Pretty and Rianna, and all the kitchen staff (didn’t get their names). Without a doubt, these are the folks that keep the business running. Thank you all. Also, want to say our special thanks to RIchard from Tshukudu Game Reserver for patiently answering all questions, and doing a wonderful game drive.
This note won’t be final,if we didn’t express our thanks to Lucky (who droves us from Tremisana to Dullstroom) and Tabo from Dullstroom to Johannesburg. These people made all the difference.
It may sound like that this was a lob-sided review, and it is because, the issues that we encountered were minimal to nothing. Just for those who want to know what those issues are, here they are: (1) One of the chalet’s door has gaps on the bottom, and it lets some bugs (ants) come inside the room. When we discovered this at 10:30 PM on a night, they readily responded, cleaned the place and provided a stop gap measure to prevent the problem happening again. Hopefully, the would fix this permanently. The other one is that not all rooms are made equal, so we requested for a change and when some other guests vacated mid-way during out stay, we got couple of our rooms readily changed. Small issues were there, but the way the staff responded to them, makes all the difference.
Overall, exceptional, and if I have to go back for a Kruger Safari, Viva Safaris has our business, 100% for sure.
“Worth every cent!”
If you’re like me and want to explore as much as possible in a short amount of time…the 3 day safari was incredible. Massango Camp was perfect. Everything we needed. We saw big 5 within minutes of starting our adventure. food was fabulous. Jordan was an amazing host that makes you feel at home! Definitely reccomend it!
– Gabriela Anderson, JHB South Africa
From your arrival to your departure (which you won’t want to leave), Tremisana offers amazing accommodation and activities. At first, you are greeted with a warm welcome by the beautiful Pretty and the rest of the staff. Soon thereafter, you board a safari cruiser and are off on a sunset safari. Fortune was full of insight and information (especially about the toilet paper tree…ha ha). As the sun was setting, we made our way to dinner. Dinner was served in the middle of the bush under the stars and the African Marula tree. We received a surprise before dinner that I sure won’t spoil for those who have never tasted the South African delicacy. We then had a traditional South African braai with delicious mango and cream for dessert. Thereafter, we boarded the cruiser and searched for the animals of the night. Fortune even spotted two genets on our way out! We were up early the next morning for a 4 hour bushwalk after some coffee and rusks. Upon return, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast and had some time to relax around the pool and bar while admiring all the monkeys and their babies. After another great lunch, those of us moving on to the next accommodation enjoyed our final safari with Tremisana in Balule and were sent off in love and with a new African family. Overall, the rooms were clean, provided with nets and airconditioning and the beds were really comfortable. The bar is cash only, the gardens surrounding the rooms are serene and you could view many animals, such as hyena, an array of birds and warthogs, from outside your room and breakfast area. The team at Tremisana are very warm and welcoming. Definitely a place to recommend!
“Best experience ever – highly recommendable”
– Lena and Markus
Hi – We arrived on the 1st of Jan and started straight on sunset and night cruise. We had 2 trips to Krüger (40 min away) and many other game drives. We would like to mention Sean and Richard in particular, as the are very knowledgeable and drove us to the right spots to see the big five.
The rooms are very spacious, clean and exceeded our expectations by far. The food is outstanding as Tiger cooks on upper class level – comparable to high class restaurants in London. The team is very friendly and accommodating – in particular Charl, Momsa, Margreth and Mandla. Thanks a lot for this unforgettable stay.
Highly recommandable location and experience.
Lena & markus
MARC’S TREEHOUSE LODGE
“Amazing people and place definitely book!”
– 1123410, Whistler Canada
It’s taken me far too long to write this review but I think about Marc’s all the time!
If you’re looking for a company stop now you’ve found it. We had the most amazing time with Viva safaris!
Victor and gang here were all amazing, so friendly and accommodating. The beautiful woman with the bright lipstick at breakfast would ask how we slept the night before and welcome us with a huge smile, at the end of the day everyone asked how our day was and what we saw. And even though they must hear the same thing every day they were genuine with interest. The guides Charl and Nico were amazing thanks guys! (And Ava back at tremisana)
(Don’t forget to tip your guides by the way! Work it into your budget)
The treehouses are so comfy and really cool experience. Can hear the sounds of nature at night. We definitely had something large rubbing against our place a few mornings!
The last day with the bush walk we had a rhino and plenty of antelope things I can’t remember the name.
The whole Viva safaris experience was so good! The lodge has a bar so at the end of the day you can sit and have a drink before dinner. The food was great! Buffet style and family style seating. Everyone we met were super cool people.
Please don’t forget to leave a tip at the end of your stay. Set aside 150-200 Rand a day or something to divide between the staff it’s not much from your pocket but so much in theirs and the staff are the best.
I’ve sent some friends your way since I was there and they loved it too I can’t wait to go back!!
Thanks again Victor! Kruger Ready!
Mr Daniel x2
Read more reviews for:
Viva Safaris, Marcs Treehouse Lodge, Tremisana Lodge and Katekani Tented Lodge on TripAdvisor.
Until next month…
With kind regards,