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  • My Kalahari Experience
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    My Kalahari Experience
    As we crossed the ‘Great Nothing’, feeling small and insignificant in contrast to this vast, hauntingly beautiful, big and ancient, now dry sea in the Kalahari, moments of doubt crept in…. we were truly alone, having seen no other vehicles for over a day now, we might even be lost.

    I remembered the words of the lodge staff telling me that driving through the Pans was always a risk. With no marked tracks or visual references the Makgadikgadi also had a deceiving tendency to suck vehicles into the sludge just below its cracked, dry surface, but was there any other way to truly experience this huge, empty, stillness except to become part of it.

    After 3 nights of camping between an endless white, silent, spacious and empty earth and the blanket of a thousand brilliant stars covering it, even being lost had started to feel more like being found, and so with only the bare necessities and a continuous 360 degree view around ourselves we continued onwards in the general direction of our oasis; Jack’s Camp.

    As desert gradually gave way to golden grasses, a mirage of mokolwane palm trees unbelievingly rose before us just on the lip of the Pans. Nestled within, a refreshingly authentic and sophisticated, old world safari style camp with unobstructed views across the expanse of ‘Great Nothing’.

    Jack’s Camp not only offers stylish comfort amid antique chests and rugs, a unique national museum, a library and pool with a view in an impossibly remote location, but facilitates the most unusual exploration and experience of its surrounding Kalahari wilderness.

    Nearby, the breath taking Chapman’s Baobab; the third largest tree in Africa.

    Game drives take you in search of rare and elusive desert animal species.

    During the dry season, quad bike into magnificent sunsets which stretch across the lunar expanse.

    Experience epic horseback safaris through the unspoilt white encrusted salt pans.

    Sleep out amongst giant boulders, under ancient baobabs and a horizon to horizon full of stars displayed.

    The Serengeti of the south; during the wet season the Makgadikgadi is home to Southern Africa’s last surviving migration, and the cat species who follow it.

    One of the most unexpected delights, was the up close and personal meerkat encounter.

    A short drive from the camp we stepped out of the vehicle with our guide and strolled across to a clan of constantly chirping, rummaging wild meerkats who hardly seemed bothered by our presence. After having taken my hat off and settling down quietly in the grass to watch them I suddenly became very attractive as the highest lookout point!

    Perhaps the greatest honour and revelation though was sparked by meeting Cobra, one of the ‘salt Bushmen’ and famous tracker and friend of Jack Bousfield.

    I had heard rumours about his age and stories tell of him crawling into an abandoned aardvark hole and emerging covered in writhing, freshly hatched pythons.

    His well-lined face tells of an ancient link to the Makgadikgadi and in his presence we became witness for just a few hours to an ancient way of life and a respected connection to the essence and wisdom of the earth.

    Accompanied too by a family of San Bushmen in their simple adornments, we walked through the Pans. We listened to their festive clickering chatter fill the cold morning air as they playfully joked amongst themselves and invited us into the mystery of their culture.

    Cobra’s skill in catching snakes is legendary but we were called to another mesmerising practice of his. As we watched aghast he quick as lightening dug up a scorpion and ceremoniously put it in his mouth ! I think I let out a little scream but he wasn’t eating it; as a service to the creature instead he was cleaning it’s 8 eyes with his saliva before releasing it back into its hole unharmed!

    We tasted roots and berries and identified animal prints, dug up water plants for a drink and dug them respectfully back in so they could continue to grow. We watched them make fire and were drawn into their very real enjoyment and animated playing of a game similar to rock, paper, scissors. They share all possessions and come together in the evenings to enjoy the “Holy” fire and hypnotically dance to call to spirits and ancestors beyond.

    In Wayne Visser’s words :

    “We call you Hunter, Bushmen, San

    You sowed the seed of primal Man

    A gentler race we have not known

    See how your legacy has grown…

    You chose the way of archer’s bow

    Of hunter’s grace-the art of flow:

    to give and take and see the whole

    To honour life and feed the soul.”
  • By Invitation: The Amur Falcons
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    By Invitation: The Amur Falcons
    Written by Mike Cadman

    One recent Sunday morning more than 100 small birds of prey hovered head-first into the wind as they hunted insects in the lush summer grasslands of the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve some 40 kilometres south of Johannesburg.

    The 30 cm long Amur falcons skilfully used the wind to maintain their positions about 20 metres above the ground, heads down as they searched the grass for prey. Some occasionally slipped into rapid dives as they plunged into the tall grass after prey, which is usually caught and eaten on the wing, while others banked away, darting downwind to begin searching another patch of the veld.

    Away to the west of the birds cyclists and day trippers in cars travelled along the Reserve’s tourist roads, some aware, many not, of the little birds of prey.

    Of those that noticed the birds few realized that they were witnessing birds that had only recently completed one of the most astonishing and longest migrations of any bird of prey. Every year, at the start of the northern winter the birds leave their breeding grounds in eastern Asia, fly across the southern face of the Himalayas, pass over northern India and then fly across three thousand kilometres of Indian Ocean to Somalia before heading south to the grasslands of Southern Africa. Here the birds spend several months feeding on prolific insect populations before starting the return journey in mid to late April.

    The Amur falcons, formerly known in South Africa as the Eastern red-footed kestrel, undertake the longest trans-ocean migration of any bird of prey. The birds, males average about 136 grams and females 148 grams, complete the trans-ocean journey in about three days, an astounding accomplishment.

    Their already arduous migration is made even more difficult by the fact that along some parts of the world they are eaten by people. This year the conservation world was shocked by the revelation by Conservation India that more than 120 000 – 140 000 of the birds had been caught and eaten in Nagaland, northern India. Conservation Indian estimated that “during the peak migration 12 000 – 14 000 birds are being hunted for consumption and commercial sale” a day.

    The migrating birds had stopped in Nagaland to rest, as they have many times before, but this time researcher learnt that hunters spread fishing nets 30-40 metres long and 10-12 metres high around the roosting sites in trees alongside a dam to capture the birds. This was the first time such large scale hunting of the falcons had been witnessed by conservationists and Conservation India has launched a programme aimed at preventing similar massacres.

    The birds roost communally and at one roost 20 000 birds have been counted. The high concentration of birds at roosts makes them easy targets.

    The falcons are traditionally hunted in Nagaland with guns or catapults and are also considered a delicacy in some parts of Africa.

    Until recently scientists had been unsure of the exact route the birds followed during their migration but the use of ultra-light satellite transmitters which weigh only five grams has allowed Dr Bernd-Ulrich Meyburg from Germany and his team to accurately track the birds for the first time.

    Dr Meyburg and his team fitted ten birds from a roost in Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal with the matchbox sized transmitters and then downloaded information from the satellite data to plot their journeys to and from southern Africa. Not only did the team manage to accurately plot the migration routes but they also recorded remarkable details of the feats achieved by individual birds.

    One bird, falcon 95 773, on its return trip to Asia flew non-stop from Somalia to Burma in only five days. Another bird, falcon 95 778, has successfully completed the journey between Newcastle and her Asian breeding grounds for the last two years, covering in the region of 60 000 kilometres on her travels.
    The falcons arrive in Southern Africa in late November and December. Some Amur falcons spend their southern summer in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi and Mozambique, in late November and December. Their Asian breeding grounds spread from south eastern Siberia, through northern China, Mongolia and North Korea. Insects such as flying termites and dragonflies are usually caught on the wing and other prey, such as grasshoppers are caught on the ground without the bird settling. They occasional eat small birds like swallows.

    Sources:
    Raptor Identification Guide for Southern Africa – Ulrich Oberprieler and Burger Cillie (Rollerbird Press).
    The Kestrel Migration Project – www.kestreling.com
    The World Working Group on Birds of Prey and Owls (WWGBP) www.raptors-international.org
  • Up, Close & Personal
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    Up, Close & Personal
    A Rhino’s View of Africa

    After having a passion for rhinos for more than 30 years, in around 2007, I started thinking about travelling to Africa to see rhinos in the wild. There were a few obstacles – my kids, work, lack of money, and the biggest one = being petrified to go to such a “dangerous” place on my own!!
    Many unsuccessful attempts to find someone to come with me eventually convinced me to bite the bullet and go on my own, just making sure that everything was 100% organised and leaving nothing to chance except my own potential stupidity.
    My objective was, strangely enough, to maximise seeing rhinos, especially black rhinos. My first trip was in August 2008 – almost six weeks, six African countries, and amazing animal experiences, including rhinos! When I sat down in my seat on the plane to come home, I made the decision that I would come back every year, as long as I could possibly manage it financially and physically.
    On my second trip, in July 2009, I found out that there were easier, more efficient ways of travelling to/from Sabi Sands/Kruger, to/from Johannesburg and between lodges in South Africa. Through Rhino Walking Safaris in Kruger, I had discovered Hartley’s Safaris, and have since completed 10 incredible African trips with them, two each year from 2010 to 2014, adding another two African countries to the list.
    Although it is a long way from Australia to South Africa, the Hartley’s personnel and their extensive experience ensure there are absolutely no “gotchas”, and no planning gaps. They make planning, organising and even paying for trips totally effortless, and I would not dream of going to Africa without involving Hartley’s! We are currently in the planning throes for August 2015.
    On most trips, I try a few new lodges and go back to some of my favourites. Returning to my “special” lodges means catching up with old friends, not just the staff, but also the animals that frequent those areas. When I observe particular leopards, cheetahs or prides of lions out on drive, it creates much more of a personal interaction when I have seen them on previous visits. It really feels like visiting old friends!

    Rita Shaw
    Sydney, Australia
  • Incredible New Destination
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    Incredible New Destination
    Hoanib Skeleton Coast, Namibia – Wilderness Safaris

    Rugged, iconic, startlingly life-filled
    Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is scenically located in a broad valley at the confluence of two tributaries of the Hoanib River in the northern part of the private Palmwag Concession. Its location thus straddles the Palmwag area and the iconic Skeleton Coast National Park, in one of the most remote areas of the Kaokoveld. Exclusivity is taken a step further as camp is only accessible by light aircraft and the camp itself consists of only seven twin-bedded tents and one family unit, each comprising stylish en-suite bedrooms with shaded outdoors decks. Flanked to the east and west by rugged hills, the camp looks out over stunning, starkly beautiful scenery and offers guests all the luxuries and amenities for an unforgettable stay.

    Highlights

    * One of the greatest concentrations of desert-adapted elephant and lion
    * Historic coastline, endless horizons, fascinating people
    * Diverse activities showcase scenic wonders and unique wildlife
  • Experiences
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    Experiences
    What lies beneath the surface

    By: Neil Tinmouth August 2014 Having a family that is spread out over the world means that the opportunities to get together are few and far between. This led us to the creation of our combined bucket list odyssey; we meet up as frequently as possible, and together tick off the entries. What could be higher on a recreational divers list, than the opportunity to plunge into clear warm tropical waters and descend onto wrecks frozen in time? Add to this an abundance of corals and marine life that inhabit these artificial reefs and you have the perfect dive site.

    We visited this dream destination, the spectacular lagoon of Chuuk, formally known as Truk Lagoon due to a mispronunciation. The South Pacific islands of Chuuk with their sheltered lagoon harboured the Japanese Combined Fleet during World War II. In 1944, Operation Hailstone, a U.S aerial assault sent more than 60 vessels and hundreds of aircraft to the floor of the lagoon.

    Owing to the geography of the reefs and the number of ships harboured, they were all moored close to each other at the time of their destruction. These coral encrusted wrecks, the majority of which were of the Japanese imperial merchant fleet now lay silently in clear blue waters, and form the renowned ‘Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon’. The calm waters allowed us an unparalleled opportunity to explore the wide variety of wrecks. Unfortunately even their close proximity did not allow us to visit a fraction of them; this is where our local dive master’s knowledge paid dividends. Following our DM’s lead, we easily swam around super structures and upturned hulls, identifying telegraphs and guns that now stand silent. Decks were littered with the remnants of trucks, tanks and objects retrieved from the holds. Bowls, bottles, telephones mixed with guns and gas masks lay clustered together. The largely intact wrecks allow for penetration.

    Below decks, in the holds were partially assembled aircraft, tanks, boxes of munitions, bulldozers, motorcycles, bicycles, torpedoes, spare parts, and not to mention the huge abundance of other artefacts. With a compulsion to explore, we carefully made our way around the superstructures entering galleys and bathrooms, all the while trying not to stir up the silt. From behind the camera, this unique underwater experience took on another dimension. Ambient light needed to be used strategically to enhance the captured images. Dark engine room penetrations presented their own unique challenges.

    All the while, as I looked tactically at each subject, the measure of focus created an awareness of the anguish that the sailors must have felt as their world was torn apart. Each wreckage be it afreighter or the Betty bomber with its large shoal of glass fish had its own distinctive allure. Seventy years on, with storm damage, corrosion and coral growth taking their toll, the opportunities to experience a memorable moment in this underwater museum are running out. A tick done, just in time! Palau Collecting our gear together we island hopped over to Palau.

    These islands were to offer us an incredibly diverse selection of ‘customary” diving experiences, but the primary reason for our visit was the opportunity to snorkel with the so called, Darwin jellyfish. After a short but gruelling walk we arrived at Jellyfish Lake, a marine lake situated on the island of Eil Malk. Donning fins, mask and snorkel we carefully entered the warm murky green stratified waters filled with golden and moon jellyfish. Around us masses of “sting less” jellyfish slowly propelled themselves through the water, gently bumping into us as they glided past.

    Nature had once again put on a spectacular show for us to experience. After Jellyfish Lake, we were now ready to take on the world class dive sites of Palau. Armed with our reef hooks we took to the water. How can you top a drift dive along sheer walls, clothed in soft and hard corals, inhabited by an abundant variety of marine life and numerous turtles? Well, add inquisitive circling reef sharks slowly twisting and turning an arm’s length, and you have an opportunity for plenty of underwater photographs.

    In one of our channel dives, we knelt glued to the seabed as giant mantas soared over us. Friendly Napoleon Wrasse’s intrigued by the camera housing accompanied us on many of our dives. They offered us up close and personal interaction time as well as some interesting photographs.

    Dropping through the blue hole into the near perfect cave below, gave another dimension to diving. The chandelier caves provided a very different photography opportunity and once again challenges were present, not least the stalactites just above the surface. An unexpected bucket list tick came on our last day when we took a helicopter excursion.

    This ride gave us the opportunity to take in the scale and incredible beauty of the islands. We picked out the different reefs and channels we had dived, which gave us a sense of order and direction. But back to our tick, from the air we saw a family of seven dugongs, swimming below us. The only word I can use is, Awesome! What a way to finish a holiday.
  • Mashatu Main Camp
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    Mashatu Main Camp
    Burning torches at the camp's entrance lure safari-goers into this oasis of luxury and impeccable hospitality.

    14 luxury suites lie along the camp's perimeter and are designed to allow absolute privacy and a communion with the bush and its inhabitants. Watch elephants splashing at the waterhole, listen to the lyrical melody of the woodlands kingfisher on a branch overhead, smell the grassy scent of the bushveld. The air here is so pure and invigorating you won't want to leave. Ever.

    The insect-proofed luxury suites, each boast a full en-suite bathroom. Sliding doors open onto the African bush, two large beds and a day bed for a child is available. A magnificent stunning viewing deck directly off the safari bar is a highlight of this camp, together with an elevated lounge overlooking the waterhole. A swimming pool and camp discovery research Centre complete the camp.

    Children of all ages welcome!
  • Mashatu Tented Camp
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    Mashatu Tented Camp
    Not to be outdone, the Mashatu Tented is a very different refuge. For the ultimate in one- on -one intimate bush experiences, look no further than this! Eight twin tents, each with private en-suite facilities. Each Concrete platform-mounted tent is tucked under the branches of enormous trees, and is accessible via meandering pathways.

    The tents themselves are spacious and comfortable has its own private outdoor en-suite facilities, including W.C. and shower - a room with a real view! Meal times are enjoyed either in the open-air thatched gazebo or in the boma (enclosure) overlooking the floodlit, well-populated waterhole. The camp's plunge pool invites guests to cool off and escape the relentless heat typical of the summer months. The shaded hide also overlooks the waterhole, and here bush enthusiasts can sit quietly and witness animals going about their day, completely unaware that they are being watched.

    The bush is a humble place….

    (Available for children over the age of 12 years).
  • Northern Tuli Predator Project
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    Northern Tuli Predator Project
    The Northern Tuli Predator Project was started in 2007 and focuses mainly on the study of lions and leopards. Additional large carnivore species have also since been selected for further studies, as part of the greater carnivore assemblage in the reserve. These include spotted hyenas and cheetah. The leopard component of the project has been running since 2005.

    Leopards are notoriously difficult to study due to their secretive nature, the habitats they frequent, and their low densities. Although leopards have been studied across a wide range of habitats, there is still a need for further study particularly with respect to management and human conflict. In the Northern Tuli Game Reserve a long-term leopard project has been initiated. Aspects investigated include behavioural ecology, population dynamics, movement patterns, population density estimation, habitat preference, prey selection and human conflict. Thus far 29 leopards have been monitored by means of VHF and GPS radio collars.

    BACKGROUND TO LION STUDY IN THE NORTHERN TULI

    Populations of large carnivores are becoming increasingly threatened throughout Africa, especially when not afforded protection by large conservation areas. Humans frequently limit carnivore numbers living outside protected areas and legal and illegal hunting, road accidents, and snaring are the cause of most fatalities that occur outside of reserve borders. Lions are highly social animals that live in fission-fusion groups, and are thus susceptible to population disturbances from humans. Infanticide also plays an important role in the level of disturbances within a lion population.

    This project aims to investigate the spatial-and temporal movements of lions from the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, Botswana. Lions moved across international boundaries and through local farmland regardless of fences and land use type, but spent most of their time inside their home ranges located within protected areas. When lions are moved out of these protected areas the probability of them being killed was high. In at least two instances this included males responding to the placement of baits set to lure lions out.

    Edge effects had a severe impact on the Notugre lion population, with 82% of adult mortality found outside the borders of the reserve. There were various reasons why males left their normal home ranges and went on excursions that took them outside protected areas, one of the reasons being females. Each radio-collared lion had a unique set of characteristics that characterized the size and location of their home ranges, resulting in wide variability in size and shape. Average 90% KDE for males were 69.0 km2 for females it was 41 km2.

    There was much less variability in the 50% KDE of both males and females the presence of human activities, in the form of cattle-posts, agricultural lands and villages also appeared to influence home range selection with lions tending to avoid these areas. With increasing human populations and the destruction of natural habitat, human-wildlife conflict will continue and requires urgent attention in order to mitigate the issue.

    THE AIMS OF THE NORTHERN TULI PREDATOR PROJECT
    * Determine lion numbers and population structures of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve
    * Compare current population status with that of historical records
    * Determine lion movements - especially male lions via GPS-radio collars
    * Identify factors influencing the lion population
  • Jewel of the Kalahari
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    Jewel of the Kalahari
    Described as the “Jewel of the Kalahari”, the Okavango Delta is where the floodplains have created a beautiful labyrinth of waterways, lagoons and islands and travellers are treated to unsurpassed game viewing activity in the humble Mokoro.

    The people of Botswana, who lived in and around the waterways of the Delta before the advent of tourism, used a wooden canoe carved from the stems of trees found in the Delta, namely the mokoro. It was used for hunting, fishing and transportation of goods through the maze like channels and shallow lagoons of the Delta. Today this is still in practice; however the trait is slowly giving away to the march of westernization into the area and most makoros are used in the tourism industry, opening up employment opportunities with many of the hunters and fishermen employed as 'polers' by the safari companies.

    Described as one of the most peaceful ways to experience Africa in its entire splendour, mokoro safaris provide an opportunity to observe the sights and sounds of nature at water level, without running the risk of scaring off animals and birds with the noise of a motor.

    For the modern traveller, the mokoro safari usually entails a guide standing at the back (stern) of the boat using the Ngashe Pole to steer and propel the boat forward, whilst one or two guests sit at the front of the boat relaxing and enjoying the view. The advantage of a mokoro is that it can be ‘poled’ across deep lakes and rivers as well as the scenic papyrus and reed filled channels and waterways, allowing one to traverse shallower waters, getting closer to the wildlife and birds frequenting the edge of the riverbanks.

    The photographic opportunities provided on a makoro safari are immeasurable as one glides past the herds of animals on the banks of the Delta river system. As tourism to Botswana has increased, the mokoro has since become an iconic symbol of the Delta. Be sure to take part in a mokoro experience during your next Botswana Safari!
  • Come Travel with Hartley’s Unashamed Wild Luxury Safari
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    Come Travel with Hartley’s Unashamed Wild Luxury Safari
    Selected for their unique habitats and extraordinary experiences, Wilderness Safaris Camps in Botswana combine perfectly to create a luxurious and thrilling safari, where land meets water. This luxury offer includes a visit to either Jao Camp or Vumbura Plains, both which celebrate the true spirit of the Delta as well as the classic African safari experience.

    Jao Camp is the ultimate in relaxation and its exceptional island setting sees its opulent tents overlooking surrounding waters, while Vumbura Plains is a sumptuous retreat of contemporary design that boasts open and expansive rooms with a broad vista over a magnificent floodplain.

    Your second destination is the ultimate wildlife destination – Mombo Camp. This quintessential luxury safari camp looks out on the almost-continuous presence of wildlife, from large herds of plains game to lurking predators. Celebrated for its longstanding and important elephant conservation, the majestic Abu Camp is an inspiring finale. This extraordinary sanctuary transports you into the serene, sensory world of the African elephant.
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