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10 October 2019

Client Review: South Africa Safari with the Frohlich Family

The Frohlich family traveled with Yellow Zebra to South Africa, where they spent some time experiencing the country’s culture in Johannesburg, its wonderful coast in Cape Town, and its famous wildlife in Kruger. Check out their review here:

Bucket list trip: to Africa!

Greetings from Reno, Nevada, USA, where my family and I are slowly getting back to reality after our epic first trip to South Africa. Before diving into our experiences, we need to thank the staff at Yellow Zebra Safaris for the meticulous planning and dedication they displayed to make the trip as safe, smooth, and memorable as it was. Thanks particularly to Emma Dunn, who answered our initial email and was on the phone discussing our plans within 24 hours of our initial inquiry, which was about a year ago. Once we explained the types of experiences we wanted, where we wanted to visit, and the types of accommodations in our budget, she ran with it and put together a flawless itinerary. And this praise does not come lightly. We pride ourselves on planning our own trips because the research and bookings are part of the fun. But to take on a first-time trip to three different African locations, with air and land transfers to areas that can be difficult to navigate, was something we needed professional help with. And for that we can’t recommend Yellow Zebra enough! Thank You!

On to the trip! Turns out that Africa was on my wife Dawn’s bucket list, but I had no idea until we talked with our nephew about his recent travels to Kenya. His photos and short videos inspired us to investigate our own trip the next day. Seeing the wildlife up close in their natural environment was something we didn’t want to miss. So, we picked our 2019 dates, got in touch with Yellow Zebra (YZ), and decided to fly into Johannesburg, then on to 3 days in Cape Town, 3 days at Kirkman’s Kamp and 3 days at Ngala Tented Camp (both fantastic &Beyond properties). After getting our final South Africa itinerary, we were so excited about our adventure that we invited our adult daughters Amber and Amanda, and Amanda’s husband Bobby, to come along. This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip we are so glad we shared with them.

Part 1: Johannesburg (1–2 July)

After flying roughly 20 hours, we arrived in Johannesburg around 8am on 1 July. The five of us needed to acclimate to the time zone so YZ booked us a day trip tour of the city, which included a stop in Soweto. Truly a humbling experience to meet some of the people and see how they live day to day. From a “western” perspective, the living conditions are a bit overwhelming, but the people we met were very gracious and eager to share how they live. From there, we visited the Apartheid Museum, which included a large exhibit about Nelson Mandela, his life, and accomplishments; and another entire section that documented the racial struggles endured in South Africa until democracy was established in the early 1990’s.

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Mandela Memorial

Nelson Mandela exhibit

Part 2: Cape Town (2–4 July)

On 2 July, we took a 2-hour flight to Cape Town, where we were greeted by our ground transportation (arranged by YZ) and delivered to The Clarendon Bantry Bay – a charming boutique hotel perched high on a cliff-side overlooking the ocean. The staff are among the most welcoming we have ever experienced! Our hostess Sarnia, bartender Klein, and breakfast host Andrew treated us like long-time friends even though we’d just met. Once we were settled in, Sarnia recommended a visit to the V&A Waterfront, and stopping by to see her friend who managed the Lindt chocolate store and cooking school. It was cool and rainy, so a mix of indoor/outdoor activities was in order, and the girls heard “Lindt” and that was it.

We had a late lunch at The Harbor House, which specializes in seafood, and then the five of us piled into a little yellow “tuk-tuk” electric taxi for the ride to Lindt. We were five full-sized “clowns” stuffed into a tiny clown car. The looks we got were priceless!

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"Clowns" in the tuk-tuk

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Lindt chocolate store & cooking school

At the Lindt store, the girls all had custom chocolate bars made and we enjoyed some hot chocolate.

After a return tuk-tuk ride and some shopping at the mall, we headed back to The Clarendon, where Klein introduced us to our first glass of Amarula – the signature liqueur of South Africa… like Bailey’s but with a unique flavor from the marula fruit. Not to be missed!

The next day, all of us headed south to Simon’s Town for a day of shark diving (Bobby and me) and whale watching for the girls. Though we were warned of the recent lack of great whites, we took the chance and booked the trip anyway. But alas, despite a wonderful day on the water and prime conditions, we only saw a 6-foot cow shark, plus seals and some penguins, and we experienced the wonderful aroma coming from Seal Island. Bobby did get up close and personal with the shark while in the cage, but I decided to stay dry and watch from the upper deck. The girls did see some whales, though, so overall the trip was a bit disappointing but worthwhile.

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Cow shark

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Kirstenbosch birds of paradise

On our third and final day in Cape Town, it was still too cloudy to visit Table Mountain, so we went to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The abundance of indigenous plants, flowers, and birds made for a memorable day trip. And the Tea Room was a nice place for lunch, rooibos tea, and coffee.

That night, Klein made a dinner reservation for us at Gold, an African restaurant with cuisine from 13 different regions, served up as a 13-course meal. He advised us to get there a little early for a “participation” event, which turned out to be group African drumming. About 100 of us all banged on drums to different beats led by two of the Gold staffers. It was a lot of fun and a great pre-dinner work-out. Dinner featured such exotic delicacies as ostrich paté, springbok steak, biltong, and a lot of native African vegetables. In between courses, the Gold staff performed colorful and lively native dances and songs.

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The Gold menu

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African drums

Part 3: Kirkman’s Kamp (5–8 July)

After a warm goodbye from the staff at The Clarendon Bantry Bay, it was on to the Cape Town airport and the main event: Safari!

Our plane landed at the small Skukuza “Airport” at midday (more of a lounge and gift shop that happens to be next to the runway… very cute). After collecting our bags, we were greeted by our tracker from Kirkman’s Kamp, named Bright, and we piled into our safari vehicle (which looks exactly like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland!). The warm sun, the savannah landscape, and the legit safari vehicle greeting us at the airstrip made the experience instantly “real” for us… we were smiling the whole time.

The Kirkman’s staff greeted us with cool towels and big smiles, also making us feel like long-lost family.

After getting settled, we toured the grounds and main buildings, which were exactly what we’d pictured a safari lodge to be. If Dr. Livingstone or Indiana Jones had walked through the door, we would not have been surprised. Crystal drinkware, old books, buffalo head over the mantle, various rifles, antique bottles, an old crank phonograph on the bar… all part of the charm and ambience of the Harry Kirkman homestead.

After a nice lunch out on the deck (and fending off the monkeys), it was time for our first safari drive with our ranger, James, and our tracker, Bright. The five of us piled into the Toyota safari truck and prepared our cameras and binoculars for frankly… we didn’t know what! James is really into birds, and that’s what we saw right away, along with impalas (per Bright, they are the “McDonalds” of the African food chain), a few elephants, baboons, and then bam… we turn a corner, and there’s a white rhino! Just… right… there! Ten feet away, standing in a clearing and not bothered by us in the slightest! Just stunning! After 15 minutes watching the rhino, we heard on the radio that a male leopard was spotted nearby, so off we went. We plowed through lots of thorny bushes and spindly trees to get there, but soon we were stopped near another safari truck and told the leopard was there… in front of us… but we didn’t see anything! Then, a shape slowly appeared about 100 feet away, moving low in the grass – a leopard stalking an impala. The impala got wind of him and ran, and then the leopard turned toward us and we just started thinking, “No, it’s not coming near us”… and then it was there, 2 feet away from the truck! It was unnerving but awesome! Within 3 hours… on our first safari drive, we ended up seeing three of the “Big Five”!

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White rhino

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Male leopard next to truck

Day 2 started with quite the buzz at Kirkman’s. Staff said that, from 11pm to 5am, something big was being hunted, chased, and ultimately killed very near to our pool and where we eat dinner. After a quick investigation, turns out two male lion brothers (and perhaps some lionesses) had killed a large buffalo and it was right outside the camp… and the lions were still there! So off we went to see what was there. As we arrived at the carcass, one of the lions was asleep in the grass, but suddenly his majestic brother emerged from in front of us and took up his place near the buffalo. Truly an awesome sight, and the first time seeing a lion in the wild is unforgettable. So big, so regal, and definitely at the top of the food chain. We felt very small and humble in the presence of such power and grace.

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Lions at Kirkman's Kamp

The Kirkman’s staff wisely decided to have the rangers relocate the buffalo carcass to a safer distance about 300 yards from camp, which made for another exciting safari stop later in the evening. One of the male lions was chest-deep in the buffalo and came out very full, bloody, and panting. And later that night, under spotlights, we were able to watch two huge lionesses eat their share while the males slept “paws up” on their backs in the background. To see these alpha predators 8 to 10 feet away, doing what they do, was awesome! They are so much bigger and more powerful close-up and “in person” than any of us anticipated.

Highlights from our third day at Kirkman’s Kamp included rounding out the Big Five by spending some time in a herd of buffalo, plus seeing a black rhino, another white rhino, baboons, eagles, mongoose, giraffes, kudu, nyalas, warthogs, and hippos. On our last drive, we spent about 30 minutes visiting with a male leopard hanging out in the river bed; this is another beautiful and majestic predator that happens to be very photogenic… and extremely calm and accommodating to us in our vehicle.

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Kirkman’s black rhino

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Kirkman's leopard

Part 4: Ngala Tented Camp (8–11 July)

We bade farewell to Kirkman’s Kamp and took a 2-hour drive to our next stop: Ngala Tented Camp. We arrived around lunchtime, ate, and met with our ranger, Shaun, and tracker, Ernest. And, much to our surprise, we were greeted by a herd of elephants that routinely gather at the pool to drink.

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Ngala elephants at the pool

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Ngala cheetah brothers

At 3:30pm, we headed out for our first game drive. Right away, we got word of two rare cheetah brothers sighted and on the move about 15 minutes from our location. Shaun hit the gas and we managed to find them in the golden late afternoon light. One of the brothers hissed at us when we approached, and then they settled down and let us watch them for about 45 minutes. Tall shoulders, very lean, regal markings, and built for speed!

Later that same night, we came across another male lion in the grass calling out in short “woofs” to something else nearby… which turned out to be his brother who just emerged out of nowhere to join him. Kind of unnerving but exciting!

We returned to Ngala Tented Camp for dinner and settled into the most luxurious “tent” you can imagine. Yes, it had a canvas ceiling and walls, but featured a king-size bed with heater, AC/heater unit, a bar, desk, closet, bathtub, and an outdoor rock shower. I want one for our back yard!

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For Day 2, our goal was to find and visit one of the local lion prides that features an extremely rare white lion cub. After 2 hours of magical tracking skills demonstrated by Ernest, we finally found them, and they were spectacular! It was still early and cool enough for the cubs to be active, while the adults started the process of finding shade for napping away the heat of the day. The pictures are much better than words!

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Finding the white lion cub

Our last morning at Ngala, our goal was to see the rare wild dogs that have a den of puppies nearby. Turns out they were easy to find as they have taken up residence on an old termite mound until the puppies are old enough to fend for themselves. We saw one adult standing guard, but the star attraction was 14 puppies doing what puppies do. Very energetic and curious, with an entertaining sparring match with three vultures that kept creeping up to steal whatever food scraps were around.

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For our evening drive, we drove out to visit another younger pride of lions that visits from outside the Ngala property. They apparently had eaten recently and were all sprawled out in a “food coma.”

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On our way back to camp, right at sunset, we drove to a clearing that didn’t look quite right. There were lanterns set up in a circle with a table in the middle that had some items on it. These were a chocolate birthday cake and champagne… out in the middle of the bush, with a beautiful sunset as the backdrop. Turns out our ranger from Kirkman’s Kamp (James) and Shaun from Ngala know each other and James passed along that it was both Dawn’s and Bobby’s birthday the week before. So, the Ngala camp set up this surprise for us on our last night out. It was a very memorable and thoughtful last evening safari!

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Later that night back at camp, starting around 10pm, we heard a baboon barking somewhere nearby, followed by the distinctive “whoop” of hyenas. Kind of spooky and unnerving, and this went on for about 45 minutes. In the morning, staff showed us where a leopard had apparently killed a duiker (small deer) and dragged it away, where a short while later something else took it… probably the hyenas. Perhaps our injured leopard could not fend off the hyenas; we’ll never know.

That next morning, we had our last safari drive and we tried to track a female leopard and cubs known to be in the area. We had one very fleeting glimpse of her, but that was all. We located a kill hidden in the reeds at the river and waited for her to return, but she never did.

We headed back to camp for breakfast and a final visit by two elephants at the pool. We packed up and were transported to a small airstrip for two flights that delivered us back to Johannesburg’s airport for our long trip back home.

And now, back home, we’re processing experiences and images that will stay with us for a lifetime. Friends who have been to Africa predicted it would be “life-changing” and it was. It was an epic experience we were fortunate to share with our family. After seeing these animals in the wild, we feel they deserve all the respect and protection we can provide as they are priceless and irreplaceable. Generations to come need to know they’re still out there thriving and ready for you to visit. Get out there and do it if you can! And thank you again, Yellow Zebra!

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The “Wild Thornberrys” on safari at Kirkman’s Kamp. Kurt, Dawn, and Amber Frohlich, Amanda and Bobby Roberson

If you’d like to experience a safari like the Frohlich's then why not contact us here. Alternatively, do take a look at our blogs and recommendations below for more family inspiration:

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