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South Africa's trip report


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#1 elbuzo

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Posted 29 August 2008 - 06:15 PM

Just arrived 2 days ago from a 5 weeks trip to South Africa and must be my most prolific trip in terms of photography ! . I managed to fill almost 200 gb of memory space during the trip .

I'm really impressed of the variety of things that you can do in SA and the beauty of the country ,also great food , wine and people that are the perfect complement for such a wonderful place.

I combined a "normal" trip with my easy-caribbean-only-diving-family and a diving safari with Dive South for 2 weeks all around the east coast of SA ( that i won as prize in Wetpixel photocontest last year) . So we covered a lot of ground from Capetown up to Sodwana Bay in those 5 weeks .

I will make a list of places with comments and things we did ,just as tips for people that are planning to go to SA , focused in diving and photography ( land and u/w ) .It's quite long but i think will be helpful:

Capetown - beautiful city to stay at least 3-4 nights , excellent restaurants ( Aubergine , Greens ) easy day trip to the wine lands ( great wine/cheese tasting at Spiers and the best bobootie at La petite Ferme ) , day trip on an 2 floor open bus with stops at the beautiful Kirstenbosh botanical garden and Hout Bay for seafood lunch and all around the city with great sights of the sea and mountains . A stroll around the streets of Bo-Kaap district with their colorful houses and some great crafts workshops . A visit to the table mountain top is a must if the weater is good. Stay in one of the highly recommend b&b for a more authentic experience with great valuee for the money and great concierge service from the hosts-ownwers , we stayed at An African Villa and we loved the place and service.

Simonstown - excellent location to photograph the colony of jackass penguins , the breaching sharks of False Bay and the breathtaking landscape of the Cape Point Reserve ( about 20 kms far ) . They are 2 operators ( Rob Lawrence and Chris Fallows ) for shark watching and is both provide more or less the same great level of service , they work as a join team and both are very eco-minded . We were extremely lucky and have flat seas and 5 breaching in 2 days .
Penguins are great photo subjects specially early in the morning and late in the afternoon if you can stand the noise and the smell . Boulders Beach Hotel have the best location but the service is horrible the rooms needs proper maintenance and cleaning and is pricey for the quality that you receive .

De Kelders - you can see the right whales from your oceanfront room , is amazing to see such big creatures just a stone throw from shore . Gansbaai/Kleinbaai are just 10 minutes drive to go out for the gws of Dyer Island . I use White Shark Diving Co. and they are great for photographers we had a normal day with 2 shark around and some waiting time for the action and the 2nd day had a blast with 6 different sharks around the boat with non-stop action for almost 4 hours !
Also did 1 afternoon whale watching trip and the right whales came to boat to almost touching distance ( an almost mystical experience that brought some tears in the boat )
We extended our stay to almost 1 week and both b&b were great ( Cliff Lodge and Whale Song Lodge ) also went to Grootbos Reserve a couple of time for great food and very scenic horse back riding .

Phinda Reserve - stayed 4 nights at Forest Lodge and had a blast ! . We stayed at Forest Lodge and loved the place , the room setting is stunning and service and food is superb only surpassed for the quality of the guides and tracker ... Mike Karantonis and Prince were some of the highlights of our trip we saw almost everything we wished for and they made the best in terms of photography opportunities ( Mike is a very experienced photographer himself ) . We only miss the leopards .
A day trip to St. Lucia Lake was a great opportunity to see hippos , crocs and water birds from a very close range .

Sabi Sands - i choose this reserve specially for the chances to see leopards and we see them indeed ! . We had 7 different sightings in 3 days , 6 different leopards including 2 playful and extremely cutes cubs. Also lots of wildlife providing great photo opportunities. We stayed at Inyati Lodge and found it a excellent value for the price ( Sabi Sand have some lodges that are really expensive ) . Guide was excellent , the small lodge is very comfortable and the food is good.

Sodwana Bay - coral divers offers very rustic accommodation in wood cabins in the middle of the bush , not beach front but very close to the diving launching place at the beach ( they provide the transfers ) . Good ambience at night at the camp with lots of young people . If you go ask for a cabin with own bathroom.
The diving was good specially at 7 miles reef , lots of colorful tropical fishes from the Indian Ocean , much of them a first for me . Excellent opportunities for fish portraits and macro . Water vis was about 70 feet and temp. 25 celcius . Going in and out in the inflatable boats to the dive sites was half the fun but special precaution must be take with the housings inside the boats to avoid damages .
Young & newbies dive masters have not much experience and this is a negative point , specially for u/w photographers.

Ithala Game Reserve - this game reserve was choosed by Dive South , it had beautiful landscape and is very quite but after Phinda and Sabi Sands , resulted boring for the scarce game viewing . Food and accommodation are just adecuate.

Umkomaas - we dive Aliwal Shoals with Oceans Alive , the experience with them was mixed , one day the dive master was almost crazy and nervous and that affect the quality time during the dive but the other days dive masters were great and relaxed . We saw lots and lots of raggies but they were more shy than i expected so had a hard time trying to get close enough for my 10-17mm .
Don't stay at Lalamazi Lodge .... that place stinks !
If the sharks are not enough adrenaline , give a try to the Oribi Gorge's bungee jumping with almost 160 meters of free fall in a impressive setting .

Scottsburg i decided to stay closer to Aliwal Shoals instead of going to Protea Banks with the rest of the group . For more raggies action and some serious shark action i choose to dive with Blue Wilderness ( Mark Addison ) out of Rocky Point and it was the highlit of my diving trip!! Their operation is one of the best i had ever use , they are really focused in serious image making and they go the extra mile every minute of it . Their passion and knowledge set them apart of the normal dive operators .
I had a great time with Mark , Steve , Gail and James , they were very helpful with everything and put me directly in to the action
. No tiger sharks ( it was a little bit out of season and also the water was cold for them ( around 19 celcius ) but raggies , duskies and specially black tips made my days !!
I stayed at Ocean Breeze and i fell like if i was at home ! also have very good food at their restaurant just besides Blue Wilderness premises .

Finally i made a night stop at Johannesburg and stayed close to the airport at Safari Club Lodge , excellent place for a quick stopover nice setting , big rooms and very peaceful , also they give free transfers to - from the airport.

If someone have questions o need further info about SA , just let me know . I will upload some photos at Flickr and post the links shortly .

This had been my longest post , by far . Hope it helps anyone looking to go to SA

Regards

Jose Alejandro

#2 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 29 August 2008 - 06:46 PM

Wow. Amazing trip and great info.

Alex

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#3 Drew

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Posted 29 August 2008 - 07:19 PM

Jose
Thanks for the big rundown for what sounds like a great trip you had.
I'll add a few things:
In Sodwana Bay, there is an ops who is very use to underwater photographers and is the only one I use. Gypsea Divers by Rob and Sam Bester. They are the best ops I've found for underwater shooting. They can arrange whaleshark viewing as well.

Umkomaas: The Lalamantzi is an old hotel but the food is decent (for Umkomaas!) for me anyhow. A nice place to stay in Umkomaas is the Agulhas House run just up the street. I usually stay there when I'm going through the south coast. The only thing is there's no restaurant in house but the decor and comfort gets an A. For dive ops, there are so many in Umkomaas. I know many of them but basically they are all about the same. The difference is they leave me alone to shoot what I want so long as I have a sausage with reel :)

Scottsburgh: Did you see what happened to that house opposite the Ocean Breeze? Stevie and James are very hard workers for sure. Wait til Stevie shows his band videos! For tigershark dives, there are other operators like African Watersports.

How many raggies did you see? The aliwal yarn of 'hundreds' around cathedral still going on? :wacko: I love it when they recount the same sharks over and over again. ;)

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#4 elbuzo

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Posted 31 August 2008 - 05:00 AM

Thanks for the info Drew , i think i will return to SA in a couple of years so i will follow your suggestions.

Don't know what happened with Lalamanzi , could be a much better place but needs better maintenance and cleaning !

Incredible how the floods make such damage ! . I think i will prefer to stay at Scottsburgh instead of Umkomass to dive Aliwal Shoals , is just such a placid place .

I saw lots of raggies but not a the cathedral , i did 2 times and they were around a dozen raggies inside but in other dive site ( i think was raggies cave ) i saw more than 20 in a hole . All in all we saw lots of them in small groups on every dive .

regards

#5 Drew

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Posted 31 August 2008 - 07:02 AM

Jose
Raggie cave is always a good place to see raggies. With a population of 20+k raggies, I'd say they are pretty plentiful for now. If you are returning to Southern Africa, you may wish to add Mozambique to your list. Tofo's critters are pretty darn good then there's the whaleshark and mantas.
Scottsburgh (Ocean Breeze side) is very nice but you need a car to get around to eat. Staying at Umkomaas, while boring and lacking of really good food (Waves, Sebastians, Taste and Lalamanzi are all within walking distance but hardly great cuisine), is very close to the launch site.
The damage from the storms also wreaked havoc on the launch sites at Rocky Bay and Scottsburgh. It also cost us 3 boat days on the ocean safari. I should go look for the pics of the debris the storm threw out to sea. The Agulhas current washed all that stuff down to where we were.

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