November 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of Viva Safaris.
From very humble beginnings, Viva has grown steadily to become one of the most sought-after safari operators to Kruger Park.
It has been a whole lot of fun. Hard work and astute business decisions have allowed Viva to establish itself in a very tough and competitive market. Even now, as we are battered mercilessly by Covid, Viva has the wherewithal to survive.
In reviewing our success story, some events stand out :
- In 1994, with the onset of democracy in SA, we were faced with some serious challenges in Kruger Park. People with limited experience were placed in managerial positions where they were not properly supported. The result was very worrying as bookings were muddled. On many occasions, we were not allocated what we had reserved. For example, we had an occasion when we had booked four rondawels in Kruger only to find there were three – so guess what, the guide had to sleep in the vehicle ! In the same way, how does one choose , from 7 international tourists, who goes on a night drive where only 4 places are available through no fault of Viva Safaris. On one occasion, I had the Italian Minister of Finance, Dr Fantozzi, the head of the Confindustria ( conference of industries ), Dr Abete, and the Italian ambassador and their partners as my guests and had to pull out all the stops and use every iota of skill and overtaxed brain to avoid a calamity !! It eventually got too much to handle and we decided to buy our own property in a nature reserve and so Tremisana Lodge came into existence. There were no longer any issues relating to shortages of accommodation or places on the open vehicle for guests doing a night drive. We had the facility to offer the international tourist our own product, the standards of which we could independently guarantee. If, for example, a guest wanted to book accommodation with a double bed, we were able to provide same. With huge success, we gave our guests good value for money accommodation, meals and service that, in due course, resulted in Viva buying other properties including Marc’s Treehouse Lodge and the Cheetah Inn. Today we offer accommodation at Tremisana Lodge, Marcs Treehouse Lodge (treehouses and tents), Masango Camp and the luxury Katekani Lodge. Through my schoolboy connection with Laurence Saad, we offer luxury safaris at Ezulwini Lodges.
- When tour operators were allowed to operate Open Sided Vehicles (OSVs) in Kruger Park, Viva Safaris was the first operator to buy four vehicles from the Kruger Park. These were tried and trusted vehicles and our guests loved the opportunity to experience a fully sensual safari – listening to the sounds of the bush and smelling the scents added tremendously to the safari experience.
- We conducted bush walks from the day we bought Tremisana. The property we bought on Olifants West included a 140 hectare area across the road. This contained wildebeest, zebra, impala and kudu and we added nyala, giraffe, waterbuck, ostrich and eland. The nyala and eland were special, as these were never seen in Kruger. We sold the piece across the road and now conduct our bush walks on an excellent property, Rome 1, along the Olifants River. I am grateful to the Britz family for their friendship and support. Of course, as time went on, the fences between Olifants West, part of Balule and Kruger Park were removed, so we employed capable rangers to conduct Big Five bush walks. We are told that the Bush Walk with armed rangers amongst the pristine riverine vegetation along the Olifants River is THE highlight for many of our guests.
- Viva bought another property, Rome 11, on which we developed the famous Marula Boma where we have our bush barbeques. This property is 12 km from Tremisana and thus guaranteed Viva’s traversing on the Olifants road. The Marula Boma BBQ is probably the single biggest attraction to our travel friends as every package we sell, and there are 30 such different packages, includes a Bush BBQ at Marula Boma. It is unfenced. A ring of rocks surrounds the dining area. These are intended to discourage any elephants from breaking the Marula Tree, which thankfully is a male and therefore does not bear fruit that is so appetising to elephants. Our chef puts candles all around the Boma and along the path to the bathrooms. I have often personally witnessed the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the guests as the vehicle is driven into the parking zone. Having dinner while listening to the sounds of the bush without a single light anywhere to be seen is an unforgettable experience.
As Covid struck, we had a massive drop in tourist numbers. To make it easier for tourists not to lose any monies paid as deposits, Viva has an extremely generous policy : All tourists are afforded the opportunity to postpone their safaris to a later date of their choice. So, if a tourist has booked a safari in 2021 and decides to go in 2023, there will be no additional costs, regardless of any increase in safari tariffs. Any increases in costs such as fuel, food, traversing, Kruger entry fees, staff wages etc will be borne by Viva and the tourist pays the original amount owed. Over 95% of our guests have chosen to take this option. They know that Viva owns its own accommodation establishments so there is no chance that a third party that provides accommodation may suddenly cancel or simply refuse to provide accommodation at original tariffs. Of course, some tourists are fed up with Covid and want to cancel regardless and we respect their decision.
Viva has suffered under Covid. It requires careful management of resources to keep afloat. We hope that the Omicron variant will be less dangerous than anticipated. It is unfortunate that our scientists, so brilliant in what they do, unwittingly have caused major damage to an already struggling tourism industry in SA. Having seen the reaction of other countries towards SA, it is possible that our scientists may act with less alacrity in reporting their findings in future – what a shame this will be ! I wonder if other countries will be so prompt in reporting the discovery of other variants after they have seen the appalling way in which our economy in general and the tourism sector in particular have suffered !!!
The animals do not know about Covid. Perhaps they have noted a decrease in traffic volumes and are therefore more relaxed. In any event, our guides have had a great month of game viewing.
GAME VIEWING REPORTS FROM OUR GUIDES
RAYMOND sent the following :
On the 05th in Kruger on the S12 we found a pride of lions eating a giraffe and more than twenty hyenas next to the waterhole waiting for the leftovers. Later on, three of the lions came close to drink water and the rest walked away into the bush. Then the competition between hyena and vultures started. Great viewing ! Some hyenas managed to carry big bones and ran off to the bush.
On 11th at Olifants West we got hyena with two little cubs approximately two months old at a den on a termite mount. At Rosie’s waterhole we got a big pride of lions lying down.
On the 13th on Olifants West, on Marula road we saw a pack of wild dogs catch an impala in front of us. In less than twenty minutes just the head of the impala was left.
On the 16th in Kruger at Nsemane dam we got a big elephant in musth right on the bridge. He walked towards us. We stopped and he came past right next to us. My guests will NEVER forget that experience !!!
On the 29th in Kruger we got a very big pride of lions lying down with their bellies full. They must have eaten a huge meal as their bellies were close to bursting.
TOLLI advises :
November is baby month – antelopes give birth in November just after the first rain. We had some big fires this year and after the rain the short grass is beautiful and green and that makes it ideal for the antelopes, zebras, giraffes, warthogs and even the little leopard tortoises.
This Bateleur eagle caught a baby impala and most people think it is only a leopard that drags its kill into a tree.
We had a big thunderstorm on the 23rd of November and were blessed with a double rainbow.
This is a giant velvet mite – we saw it on our bush walk and they also hatch after the rain. These mites are predators and prey on termites and grow up to 12mm in length.
More beautiful photos taken by me during the month.
How to spot a leopard on the other side of the river in a tree:
The leg of the leopard is breaking the horizontal line of the tree, so you have to train your eyes to look for lines going down that break the line of the branches that goes parallel with the ground.
This is me on our bush walk explaining to our guests the uses of Tambotie trees.
For more information about Tambotie trees please book a safari with Viva Safaris.
YURI sent the following :
Well…November was a whole mixed bag of surprises. Unpredictable weather. One day a scorching 45 degrees, the next a chilli 18! Same with the bush. One day teeming with wildlife and the next it seems like all life had been abducted by aliens…Nonetheless, I will share some of the highlights:
1. HARD CANDY
One early evening while out for our Sunset Drive we came across 3 female & 2 male lions. I could see that the one female was very interested in something and upon closer inspection, we saw that she found an interesting morsel. They had stumbled upon a few leopard tortoises and just couldn’t resist prying the shells open and having a bit of a nibble. Off course a tortoise could never be a proper meal for a lion, but this was more a case of “curiosity killed the cat”. Anyway, they all had a taste, but I don’t think they went back for seconds.
2. THREE IN TWO
On yet another Sunset Drive with a group of clients from the USA we started off with a bang! Hardly half an hour into the drive, what do we find skulking around in the bush a mere 20 meters from us…a beautiful male leopard. Moving on from there, on our way to Marula Boma for our bush dinner we bumped into a black rhino and her calf! Now, sounding like an infomercial, that’s not all! The next morning, while heading out for our bush walk, 5 lions just lazing around in the shade, under a bush. Needless to say that the next day in Kruger National Park was most enjoyable with a wide variety of animals just posing for us.
3. THE BIRDS SHOWING US THE WAY
I must say, even for me this was an unusual experience…
A day out in Kruger National Park and we stopped to look at a beautiful white backed vulture perched on a dead tree beside the road. After taking some great pics we moved on, but only about 15 metres to where a pride of lions was sleeping in the shade.
Moving on from there, we stopped to have a look at a saddle bill stork, and what do we find not far from it? A herd of elephant and buffalo cooling down in the river. Oh, and not to mention the 3.5 metre crocodile not far away either.
After lunch we continued. Find 2 magnificent Verreaux Eagle Owl perched in a fig tree above us. Get some great pics, and what next…a white rhino, out in the open merrily grazing while we keep snapping away pic after pic.
Finally, after so much excitement, it was time to head to Orpen Gate, but still time for some shots of a brown snake eagle, but what do we find just up the road from it…a gorgeous leopard relaxing in a tree!
Truly amazing! Each time we stopped for a bird, the very next thing we saw was one of the Big 5.
4. A BIRDER’S PARADISE
Always on the lookout for amazing animals, we tend to forget that this area is also home to a huge variety of birds and is truly a Birder’s Paradise. I was lucky enough to have a group of guests who were here for exactly that. Off course we saw loads of animals as well, but it was great to be able to get this group a couple of “lifers”, like Ground Hornbill, Kori Bustard, Brown Headed Parrot, Black Sparrow Hawk, Black Chested Snake Eagle, Woodland Kingfisher and White Headed Vulture, to name but a few. So please remember, Kruger has way much more to offer than just animals!
5. A SEQUENCE OF LAST MINUTE LUCK
1. Driving back to Tremisana after Bush Dinner: 2 Huge male lions
2. Driving back to Tremisana after Bush Dinner: Male leopard right in the road
3. Driving back to Tremisana after Bush Binner: Pride of lions next to the road
LAST MINUTE LUCK!!!
Just as we thought things were getting back to normal, Covid screws us again!!!! PLEASE POSTPONE, DON’T CANCEL. WE ARE HERE…WAITING
See you soon
I did not get up to Kruger this month but celebrated my birthday with all the family at Pumusa Bush Camp.
I managed some good pics :
Beautiful Sunset at Ismangaliso Wetlands Park
Bromelia Serra at Pumusa Bushcamp
At Hilltop Camp in Hluhluwe : Sandra and me with 8 of 9 grandkids – one couldn’t make the photo.
Nyala bull seen on night walk at Pumusa Bushcamp
NEWS FROM OUR LODGES
Nyarai sent the following :
The month of November started off great. A lot more sunshine always means more hours of light for game viewing and extra pool time. A lot of days were characterized by high temperatures and it was always ideal to stay hydrated in such weather. The garden is full of life as usual and animal sightings were fantastic as usual. I spend time with my bird book and spot birds in the garden. On one of my bird spotting escapades in the garden I came across a snake, a very small snake. For someone who has spent years in the bush I am still a bit uncomfortable around snakes even though I find them fascinating. I found the small snake in the tea trunk close to the pool.
November is the month of Gratitude and in light of what is going on in the world at the moment focusing on the good seems to be the only way to survive. Every time when I find myself in a space where things do not seem to be going how I want them to I just take a step back, take a deep breath and focus on all that is right and realize that one day this will also get better one day. I was ecstatic about how things were returning to some sort of normalcy not knowing that we would soon be facing another hurdle. The number of tourists was on a steady increase and it seemed as though the tourism industry was well on its way to recovery. I am sure we will survive this wave the same way we have survived the others.
I think I have been very optimistic throughout the year and I feel a bit more optimism to ride to the end of the year would not hurt. The universe gives back what we pour out so positive thoughts every day. I am grateful that we are operational as a business, we wake up to the beauty of the bush, the clients that continue to support us throughout the pandemic but most importantly that we are alive. “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the mother of all the others.” said Roman orator and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Poaching is still a problem. Just last week, on an early departure for a bush walk, Tolli encountered a suspicious man in a pickup van. Tolli challenged him and arrested him after finding an impala carcass in the vehicle.
The boma and BBQ at Katekani. Hopefully next year we shall take a photo with lots of guests
The buffalo herd is present every day. Tolli took the photo below.
MARCS TREEHOUSE LODGE
Signs of leopard activity are plentiful. Our guests saw the one pictured below:
One morning Tolli found the carcass of a nyala right at the pool. Spoor indicated that it was killed by a leopard.
A troop of banded mongooses are seen regularly.
NEWS FOR OUR TRAVEL PARTNERS
It is tough times again.
Just when we thought the worst was behind us, up pops Omicron !
I had planned to re-engage three more members of staff in December but it is looking increasingly unlikely that we can do this as bookings are postponed and a few have even been cancelled. I am nevertheless pleased to advise that Delina, who started with Viva in 1996 and Patrick, who has guided for us for over 12 years have been employed on a fulltime basis.
We can hope and pray that the countries that have forbidden travel to SA will soon change their minds.
I include some reviews posted on Tripadvisor this month:
Best Trip Ever
Yuri and Tolly we’re the best ever. Very knowledgeable and super friendly. We saw all of the big 5 as well as many other animals. Food and service were impeccable. Booking next trip now. Katakani lodge was outstanding. George the driver to/from Johannesburg was awesome also, he saw me everyday and was very friendly. You won’t regret a trip here with Viva Safari!!!
We recently stayed at both Treminsana and and Katekani camps. Yuri and Tolly were our very knowledgeable guides. For an authentic experience, I would recommend the 5 day Classic Kruger Safari. You wont be disappointed.
I enjoyed a 6-day Safari with Viva Safaris in this year September. It was defenetly a ecperience of the lifetime. We had really great rangers and personnal around us in this difficult time. The do like nearly everything to offer us a amazing and safe trip!
The Tremisana Game Lodge was amazing too! many Thanks to everyone there. As I travelled on my own they take really care about me. I higly recommend Viva Safari’s and the Treminsana Game Lodge! many love to you guys from cold Germany.
Me and my friends had 4 amazing days with Viva Safaris. Organization, Food, Staff and Tremisana Lodge were great and people were very friendly. We saw a lot of animals and had great days which we will never forget. Thank you, we all hope to come back any time.
I enjoyed a 6-day Safari with Viva Safaris. It was defenetly a ecperience for a lifetime. We had really great rangers and personnal around us. The do like nearly everything to offer us a amazing and safe trip!
Marc’s treehouse Lodge was amazing. You feel like, you’re in the middle of the nature with all the beautifull animals around you. Also many thanks to everyone there. As I travelled on my own they take really care about me. I higly recommend Viva Safari’s and the Marc’s treehouse Lodge!
Hope to see you guys back at one day 🙂
Thank you to Sheila Stead who granted permission to publish her email sent to me:
Absolutely loved the amimal pics this month…made me very homesick. At the age of 85 I certainly am unable to spend another holiday at Tremisana let alone have permission to fly again.
However just to say I shall always remember the wonderful time I had and can, without hesitation ,
say how, to all who haven’t experienced a holiday with Viva Safaris, put this on your bucket list. You will never regret it.
Thanks once again to Bob and Linda de Marco for their cash donation to the Catholic church in Acornhoek and the three members of staff that they so fondly remember.
It is going to be a muted festive season.
On behalf of all at Viva Safaris, I wish you a happy festive season. May your Christmas season be filled with hope, holiness and good health. Please keep us in your prayers.
Until end of January,
With kind regards,