Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Xmas and a Happy Two-zero-one-zero

This is Africa calling....

Are you still there, Legion of Fans (LOF)? If you are you shouldn't be... get off the internet and go have a Christmas drink with your loved ones.

Regular-commenter, Ali G, and Mother Blog are here with Mrs Blog and me for Christmas. They seem to be having a good time, having spotted leopard, painted dog (a pack of 18), lion, hyena, elephant, buffalo, rhino and a host of grass and tree eaters.

They were last seen heading north in the Kruger Park, South Africa, towards Shingwedzi Camp in search of Cheetah. Hopefull they will make it back... if not there will be more roast pork, chicken and booze for Mrs B and me.

We have pictures by the hundred to post and I am sure Ali G is keen to show the world his new found talents as a photographer so I am going to ask him to be a guest poster very early in the new year.

Myself, I will be out of regular email contact for quite a while. I'll pop on when I can, but Mrs B and I are heading, in this order, to Kenya (Mombasa), Tanzania (Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti National Park), and Zimbabwe (Kariba and maybe Mana Pools) in January/February. None of these countries is known for its excellent interent connectivity.

I will, however, hopefully squeeze out a new year's newsletter in early jan, before I leave South Africa, which will include details of the next TP (that's Tony Park, not Toilet Paper) Safari, due to depart for South Africa in May, 2010.

So, on that note, to all of you from all of us (me, Mrs B, Ali G, Mother B and Broomas and Tonka the Land Rovers) have a safe and merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

(And on a mildly serious note, please spare a thought for the many Australian servicemen and women posted abroad this holiday season)


Saturday, December 12, 2009


Shoo! Getaway from here to Getaway Magazine, and read my latest blog there.

Don't forget to leave comments. I want the people at Getaway to think I'm famous, so that one day they'll send me on a hot air balloon ride over the Masai Mara, or to a B&B in Bloemfontein, or something exotic like that.

There'll be another post there soon... a very controversial one with lots of racism and xenophobia. You'll love it.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Snap slide show

Yes, Legion of Fans (LOF), it's another slide show because, you guessed it, I can't think of anything else to write. Thank God for the Kruger National Park and its abundant wildlife and photo opportunities (and I know you really only come here for the pictures).

Work-wise, I am now at Page 176 of the new novel (nearing half way), and have completed my edits and re-write of the top secret second non-fiction book. This, thankfully, has been well received by my very good friends at Macmillan Australia.

If you've been having trouble getting hold of a copy of one of my earlier books in South Africa (and I know a couple of you have, because you've told me), rest assured that resupplies are on their way, via airmail, from Australia following a bit of a glitch in the supply chain system.

I do, actually, have some interesting stuff to write, but the swimming pool and cold beer at Skukuza Rest Camp are beckoning, so here are a few pics, instead.

If you think this bird looks odd, you should see him in the flesh 'n feathers. He is (I think) a black-bellied Korhaan. His call is a series of quacks followed by a noise that is - and I kid you not - exactly like a cork coming out of a wine bottle. To impress the ladies, during the mating season, he flies up into the air and then stops, mid-flight, like he has been shot, and then tumbles to earth as though he is dead. As with so many things in Africa, truth is stranger than fiction.

It's rootin', tootin' and fightin' season in the African bush, LOF, and everyone is at it everywhere. All of our major grass and leaf eaters are popping out babies left right and centre and that's as good a cue as any that it's time for some sex again.
Who asked for the Zebras? Ah, yes, Mr Shamrock Safari - he of the Zebra-painted Land Rover. Here are a couple of feisty stallions testing each other out to see who will have the honour of getting the most piggy back rides in the next few months.

The rainy season is good for raptors, which is what twitchers call killer birds. Mrs Blog and I, we just call them killer birdies. I snapped this chap just after he had finished a meal of Chameleon a'la mort du rue. He's some sort of eagle (I usually say Tawny Eagle, to people who know less about birds than me, when I don't know what type of raptor I'm looking at). I stand to be corrected (by Kathleen, I suspect, if she is still out there).
Anyhoo, this chap had a Black Breasted Snake Eagle (I do know that one), circling enviously and greedily above him. The Snake Eagle swooped this guy a couple of times. In the end, the bird above woofed down his Chameleon in one big bite. He had to waddle around on the road a bit after that (I know how he feels - indigestion is a bitch), before taking off in front of my camera lens.

"I could eat you, if I chose," this young fellow is saying to me, as I sat in Brumas the Land Rover, just metres away from him, "but I know I'd get in trouble for eating a tourist, so I only eat Mozambican illegal immigrants."
"Oh, sorry.... didn't see you there," (because like all rhinos he is half blind and therefore ludicrously easy for poachers to kill), "would you like to take my picture?"
Big, friendly, slightly daft, overweight, short-sighted and sporting an enormous horn. Is it any wonder why I identify so easily with the White Rhino, LOF?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pygmy down!

I ask you, Legion of Fans (LOF), is this not the cutest little thing you have ever seen in your collective lives? Couldn't you, to plagiarise my blogging friend the Crabmommy, just put him on a roll with mustard and eat him?

This is a Pygmy Kingfisher - more about him, and how he found his way to making a nest in our tea towel, shortly.

Apoligies, once again, in the meantime for the lack of blogging activity. As attentive readers would know, I have been hard at work finishing off the structural edits to my top-secret second non-fiction book. More on that in due course. Now I'm back to the comparatively easy job of cranking out another 140,000-word novel. Piece of piss, as we used to say in the army.

Mrs Blog and I have been having many adventures these last couple of weeks, in between edits, so I have no shortage of material to blog about. You'll just have to be patient with me as I get around to writing it (and getting back to my novel, which is foundering around page 135 at the moment). The next few posts have a distinctly conservationist theme to them, so get read to be alternately enraged and moved to tears (of joy, of course).

But back to the small but perfectly formed kingfisher (or fish-kinger as one of our young Zimbabwean friends calls them).

The Pygmy Kingfisher is, I believe, relatively common, but I rarely see them. I've maybe seen two or three in the last fifteen years of travelling around Africa. It's similar in size to the spectacularly colourful Malachite Kingfisher, but the Pygmy is no slouch when it comes to plummage, either. To give you an idea of size, he would fit easily into the palm of a short person's hand.

So, LOF, imagine my surprise when this little fellow landed, literally, at my feet while I was editing away. Unfortunately, he did not stop of his own free will - he flew into a window at the lodge where Mrs B and I were staying at Biyamiti Bushveld Camp, in the Kruger National Park.


And I do mean ouch. For a tiny bird he made an almighty clang as he sped, headlong, straight into the verandah's glassed wall. Mrs Blog came a-running and we rushed to his side. It looked initially, like he was dead on arrival on the tiles.

We knelt down and gently touched him... no movement.

We were heartbroken, LOF. Such a beautiful little bird, and it was a shame that the first time I'd got to see one up close he was, well... dead.

But not so! He raised a tiny wing. We suddenly went into rescue mode.

He opened his little beak, but no sound came out. "He just opened his eyes!" I exclaimed (hence the exclamation mark).

"Not this one," Mrs Blog said. She was looking at the other eye, which remained closed. How, I wondered, if he ever recovered would he fly with one eye? Badly? In zig-zags?

Mrs Blog fetched a clean tea towel, as you do, and we gently scooped Captain Peter "Wrong Way" Peach Fuzz the Pygmy Kingfisher into it (you either get that reference or you do not. This post will be long enough without footnotes).

I'd decided to name him because as we carefully moved Wrong Way to a lounge chair Mrs B informed me that she had heard of people raising injured birds as pets (in fact, now that I think about it, I wrote a book about a guy who did that - called Part of the Pride. The Lion man, Kevin Richardson, started on birds and moved on to lions).

We had some mini visions of Wrong Way accompanying us on our travels in Broomas, perhaps perched atop the camera box or sitting on the dashboard in the tea towel nest that he seemed quite comfortable in.

"This eye's open," Mrs B said.

And so, too, was the one on my side. It's the rainy season now, as I have mentioned, so there were no shortage of bugs around, including many thousands who, like Wrong Way, had sconned themselves on the verandah light the night before. I began scooping these up, so that as Wrong Way regained consciousness we would be able to begin nursing him back to health.

"Beak's opening again," Mrs B said.

Wrong Way sat there for about 15 minutes, lapsing in and out of consciousness. We hovered aorund him, and the maid came, and said, "Shame," before adjourning to sweep up some bugs.

Perhaps it was time for his feeding. With dead grasshopper in hand I knelt by Wrong Way's side and reached out my hand.

And he flew away.

Just like that.

Have a nice day. We did.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's raining, it's pouring

But Mr Blog is not snoring. He is working hard on the structural edits for his top-secret second non-fiction book. But he is taking time out of his hectic schedule to show you all some pictures.

He is also posting these pictures because it has been raining for five f@#ing days straight here in the Kruger National Park and I've hardly seen an animal (except for some resident elephents who pop by for a drink most afternoons at the growing puddle of water outside the fence where we're staying, in Biyamiti Bushveld Camp).

Before the rain had set in we'd also seen buffalo and rhino from the safety and comfort of our two-bedroom lodge.

So here, as much for my benefit as yours (to remind me that somewhere out there in all that rain there are, indeed, lots of animals in the kruger park) are some recent pics...

I snapped this handsome old bovine (this one's for you, Dozy) at the Delaporte water hole, not far from Kruger's main rest camp, Skukuza, when the weather was a bit nicer.

And if you think the locale for this lion pic is strangely familiar, you'd be right. It's also at Delaporte. Dedicated and eagle-eyed readers would recognise this puddle as the same one where my recent leopard-drinking picture was taken. Mrs Blog and I have seen four of the Big Five (minus) elephant, at this exact spot at different times over the past few weeks.

Baboons are everywhere in Kruger - in the bush, in the camp, in the garbage bins, and even in the tent (we had a break-in a couple of weeks ago. We are anal about not storing food in the tent, but sometimes a baboon or monkey will break in if they even see something that looks like a food container).
They're ugly things, but their kids are cute when their little and if you spend enough time with them occasionally they'll usually present a half-decent photo opportunity. This leaping lord was part of a big troop or 40 or so that we watched for a while moving along the Sabie River. They're not keen on water and would leap good distances from rock to rock rather than wading thorugh the fast current. Gotcha!

The eye of the tiger... I mean lion. This lady and 13 of her friends and relations were making short work of a buffalo right on the edge of the main road between Pretoriuskop Camp and Skukuza.

And here's the same pride at a different time of day. Light wasnt good (because of the f-ing rain) but I like the look on the cheeky little cub at the lower left. No table manners required.
Mrs Blog did an excellent job on the lions pics, don't you think?
If you've got a fave animal, post a comment if you'd like to see it. Short of Pangolin or Aardvaark I could very well have a picture of it. If I don't I'll go hunting for the big game of your choice, because that's the kind of blogger I am.
(PS: rain has stopped but work continues apace).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Getaway from here... the lot of you!

I've resurrected my blog at South Africa's Getaway magazine, so scoot on over and have a read here (and leave a comment so it looks like I have millions of readers).

I've written a post about some truly wild and fierce African animals. Warning: contains high level violence and sex scenes.

More pics comning soon - promise.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

1997 Land Rover Defender 300Tdi Low Kms, mint condition, fully equipped safari vehicle.

No, it's not for sale!!! But if that hasn't attracted a few random googling Land Rover fans to the blog then I don't know what will. If you have joined us by mistake, sorry, but please read on.

He’s big, he’s white, he’s cool and he’s loveable… so it’s no wonder our new Land Rover is named after a polar bear.

Legion of Fans (LOF), meet Broomas. Here he is, below, proudly posing with his new roof top tent, awning, and his svelte but camera-shy mummy (complete with trendy new cowgirl hat).

Broom-broom Broomas is named after Brumas, the first polar bear to be born in captivity at the London Zoo, way back in 1949. When she was even shorter than she is now, Mrs Blog used to have a stuffed polar bear, which mother-in-law Blog named after the famous Brumas.

Broomas is a 1997 300Tdi Defender Hard Top, and he goes like the klappers. He cruises nicely at 110kph and I’ve had him up to 120kph. This may not sound all that staggering to you owners of sports cars and Japanese people movers, but believe me, 120kph is about as fast anyone should go in the mobile house brick that is the Land Rover.

Did I mention he also has power steering? This is nice, although the good thing about faithful old Tonka, our other Land Rover, is that when I drive him for extended periods I end up with arms like an East German female shot-putter. Broomas’ steering has resulted in me reverting to type and looking like a 45-year-old man who types for a living.

Such is life.

Before I get any hate mail from Series Land Rover owners, or snarky comments from Doctors Nietske or Kervorkian, let me state for the record that Tonka is alive an (sort of) well, and is definitely here to stay.

Our plan is to keep Tonka in Zimbabwe, where he is registered, and use him for short trips to the bush only. He is getting very old (24 this year) and his plucky little 2.25litre diesel heart is not as plucky as it used to be. His top speed these days is about 70 kph.

But the rest of Africa is waiting for Broomas and we hope to give him many adventures in the years to come (no doubt with some attendant heart ache).

For now, though, he is purring like a singer sewing machine with a turbo. He likes puttering about the Kruger Park at low speeds, yet he also takes the mountainous hills of Mpumalanga in his stride and likes nothing better than to be given his head on the N4, trusty steed/bear that he is.

And now, for the gadgets…

Mrs Blog and I have spent a frankly terrifying amount on camping gadgets in the last couple of weeks while we prepare Broomas to take over the mantle as Africa’s ultimate safari vehicle. So far, we have purchased:

- Easi-awn Rooftop tent (the T-top variety, for those of you who are interested. The T-top provides a nifty overhang to give shelter over the ladder and door, so you don’t get wet when going for a midnight pee in the rain)

- Easi-awn retractable awning. This is like a roller blind with legs. Very quick to erect and stow, though one of the leg stays has a nasty habit of biting my fingers and removing chunks of my flesh

- High-lift jack (no macho safari vehicle is complete without one, even though incorrect use can cost you an eye, a tooth or a life)

- Front-runner roof rack (Broomas came with an old Brakhah aluminium roof rack, but it was frot – which means buggered)

- Two(expensive) tubular steel and canvas Campmor camping chairs

- One (cheap) fold-up guest chair

- Two lightweight aluminium roll-top camping tables (these are brilliant, by the way)

- 52-litre stainless steel National Luna compressor driven fridge. “Think of it as investment in the future…” said the slick salesmen as I wobbled at the knees while handing over my Visa card

- Roof bag, jerry can holders (supplied with Broomas), spade, external gas bottle holder, and esky (cooler box to you South Africans out there).

Of course, we’ve also spent big on the little essentials of camping, such as plates, knives and forks, pots and pans, potato peeler, Tupperware, etc etc etc etc.

As with Tonka one thing we’ve skimped on is storage. I’m not a fan of fitted roller draws or other fancy-schmancy storage devices. Mrs Blog and I go for plastic storage boxes – and cheap ones at that.

Broomas is a work in progress and no doubt the storage configuration will evolve over the years as we get to know him. It’s a mistake, I believe, to spend too much on his innards at this early stage. Our boxes (one for food staples, one for kitchen utensils, one for books, one for computers, and one for the hard-bodied Mrs Blog’s exercise gear) all cost about R70 (AUD$10-ish) each.

Annoyingly, Broomas is fitted with no fewer than three anti-theft devices. He has an alarm, an immobiliser and an anti-hijack cut out device. Just starting him requires a complex series of stalk-docking and button pushing exercises that would put the Kama Sutra or a NASA pre-flight manual to shame.

Pleasingly, he doesn’t drip any oil (yet). I had some worrying moments early on, after collecting Broomas when I would check underneath him and find no oil splodges. Land Rovers are notorious leakers (in fact, they’re just marking their territory), and for a while I wondered whether he had any gear box or engine oil in him at all.

Best of all, Broomas has flow-through airconditioning – the pop-open vents in the front which have sadly (and stupidly) been welded shut on the latest Defenders, and two other critical cooling devices – twin beverage holders on the dashboard.

But bestest of all, Broomas is ours. Mrs Blog and I think of Broomas as our second child, a baby brother to Tonka. Are we mad? Of course. It’s a Land Rover thing.

What do you reckon, LOF? Any ideas on how I can further pimp my camping ride?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spot the Cheetah - quickly

When you come to Africa, to travel on safari with me on one of the lavish safaris I plan on continuing to lead (as long as my good friends at the Africa Safari Co keep paying my airfares), you will learn the hard way that the cheetah is the most difficult of the larger killing animals to spot.

This due, in my scientific opinion, to three rules, namely:

1. There are not many of them. In the Kruger Park, where Mrs Blog and I are currently residing, there are only about 200.

2. Cheetah, in my experience, tend to be a bit flightly. They seem to be nervy, highly strung creatures, not prone (generally speaking) to hanging around and waiting for you to pull out your camera, remove the lens cap, then remember to turn it on, and

3. I will only ever see something very interesting, such as a cheetah, when I am in a rush to get out of the park, or back to camp before the evening curfew.

There are exceptions to all rules, of course. While there are not many cheetah, there are some who stick to pretty well defined territories, so if you know where to look, you might find one, such as this particularly impressive specimen...

Mrs B and I have seen this fellow so many times (about four, all up - which is a lot in terms of cheetah spotting) that we have given him a name. Spot.

One of the boundaries of Spot's territory is the dirt road that runs between Numbi and Phabeni gates in the south east of Kruger. When we've seen spot he's bee scent marking (poohing and weeing, to you and me) on prominent bits of high ground along the road, such as this tree.

Cheetah don't lounge around in trees (like leopard), but they do like getting up on things to mark their turf, and to scan the surrounding country for meals.

In contravention of rule 2 (see above), Spot is not nervy, flighty or highly strung. He's a big male who is very sure of himself and very unafraid of people in cars. In this respect he's like a lion. He couldn't give a Cheetah's squeak (they do squeak, rather than growl or roar) about tourists. Spot strides down the road like the Leonardo di Caprio of the veldt - king of the world, if you will. He also does OK with the ladies and we have seen him in the company of female, who we christened Dorothy (Dot... get it?).

As to rule 3 (above) Mrs B and I invariably see cool things on the odd occasion that we are in a rush, and that doesn't happen very often.

On the day we last saw spot we were hurrying to Hazyview to pick up Miss T, a former work colleague of Mrs Blog's, who spent a week with us (I must add, here, for the record that Miss T was very low maintenance, and well up for a bit of the old animal spotting, which makes her our ideal type of guest. Plus, she left behind a cool cowgirl hat that Mrs Blog has taken to wearing, so all in all, a good visit).

Yesterday, we were rushing to get out of the park to the nearby town of Nelspruit so I could get an anti-hijack immobiliser thingamebob fitted to our new(ish) Land Rover, Broomas. Broomas already had an alarm and an immobiliser, but that wasn't enough to satisfy the insurance company in the land of the car-jacking.

Of course, we saw a leopard, didn't we... stalking impala just near Malelane Gate, and didn't even have time to get a decent picture.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Winged Wednesday

I know you all come here for the pictures rather than the articles, but how many of you are into birds (the feathered kind, Ali G)?

Here are a few random feathered photos from the trip so far:

These chirpy little fellows are red-billed oxpeckers. I took this pic in the Kruger Park some time in the last couple of weeks. Their job is to pick ticks and other parasites off mammals, such as buffalo (which is what these ones are riding on), rhino, giraffe and other assorted grass eaters. At the same time, they act as an early warning system, chirping to notify the host animal if there's a predator in the area. In Swahili this bird is known as Askari wa Kifaru, which means "guard of the rhino". See, you learn something every day.

And above, we have the Lilac Breasted Roller, which is probably the first bird any visitor to southern Africa gets to know. It's common as muck and gaudy as hell. My kind of bird.

True twitchers might appreciate this chap (or chapess) above. It's a Crowned Hornbill, and it's the first one I've seen in 15 years of touring the dark continent. The yellow billed (of Lion King fame) and red billed hornbills are far more common. I bagged this beauty on a drive from the luxurious Tinga Private Game Lodge recently.

Come on, who can resist a penguin? These cute as a button little Burgess Meredith impersonators live on Boulders Beach, Cape Town, which is, like, the world's smallest national park or something. I visited this colony with the incredibily fortunate and damned-fine people who made up the inaugural Silent Predator Safari tour, in September. You, too, could be snapping penguins and many other creatures great and small with me if you have the guts and the bucks to join me on one of my tours (sign up for the newsletter, top left, if you think you have what it takes...)

And finally, a serene shot of a cormorant, taken from above, at the lighthouse at Cape Point. Let it not be said that I don't take you from one end of Africa to the other (this is the southernmost bit, and some time ago, you may recall I was blogging from Libya, which is up the other end).
MTC (mammals to come. Soon. Promise)

Monday, November 02, 2009

I've gone to the dogs

Big news... I have been appointed as one of the patrons of the Australian-based wildlife charity Painted Dog Conservation Inc!

When I started writing books about Africa I hoped that one day there would be some way I could do something via my writing to help raise awareness (or money) for conservation issues.

After a false start (in which one organisation told me they didn't want me to help them raise money because I wasn't famous enough - ouch), I was contacted out of the blue one day by John and Angela Lemon, who run the Painted Dog Conservation organisation in Western Australia.

John and Ange had read my third book, SAFARI which features a (very attractive) painted dog researcher, Michelle Parker, who is based in Hwange Natioinal Park, Zimbabwe. As it turned out, John and Ange had also been working on dog research and conservation in the same park, and John had been instrumental in building a painted dog interprative centre and refuge just outside Hwange's Main Camp.

Readers with long memories may recall that I've spoken at a couple of John and Ange's fundraisers over the past two years, and auctioned off names in my books to help them raise money. There are a couple of big donors to the cause who feature as characters in my latest book, IVORY.

Painted Dog Conservation Inc supports in-situ painted dog research and conservation projects in Namibia and Zimbabwe.

The interpretive centre, which I visited recently during my trip to Zimbabwe, is quite frankly the best facility of its kind I have ever seen. And I'm not just saying this because I'm now a patron. (I'm standing out the front of the centre in the picture up the top of this post).
The centre provides a wealth of informaiton about the endangered painted dog via the (mostly true) story of one plucky doggy, named Eyespot. Large colourful murals paint the painted dog picture in a way kids (and grown ups) can absorb information, and have their heart strings tugged at the same time.

There's no entrance fee to the centre, though by the time you've heard all of Eyespot's trials and tribulations (delivered in a very warm, and very polished manner by the lady guide) you can't wait to get your wallet out.

Interestingly, and scarily, the entire building (and it's a biggy) is made of mud bricks reinforced by snare wire. Subsistence poachers place snares in the national park to trap small buck, such as Impala, for food, but curious predators (like the dog below) and every other manner of mammal also get ensnared. One of the main activities of the dog conservation project in Hwange is anti-poaching patrols and snare collection.

As well as educating visitors and locals alike, the centre also functions as a refuge for injured or otherwise disadvantaged painted dogs. While I was there visiting the centre was caring for a litter of puppies whose parents had been killed by lions. With other animals these might have been left to die in the wild, but there are so few painted dogs left in Africa (only about 2,500) that these little doggies had to be saved.

Our guide around the enclosures, Xmas, (that's him and me below) told us that once the pups reached a certain age (big but not too big) they should be able to be reintroduced to the wild and adopted by another pack. What nice animals these dogs are.

Now, I'm not sure what a patron is supposed to do, so if you have any ideas, please let me know. For now, it's probably enough that you all click through to the website here and learn a bit more about painted dogs.

I might not know what to do, but I am touched and honoured to have been invited to lend my ongoing support to this very good cause.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tony Park Parkcast Episode 4: Ivory

Jimbob talks to Australian author Tony Park about his new novel set in Africa, Ivory.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hellooooo, breakfast.

Suffering suckotash... click on this pic to enlarge it (if you have bad eyes like me). This is a real pic I took of a lioness in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, taking a very close interest in some national parks workers (to the right of the pic) who were repairing the water pump at the Dom waterhole.
Feel free to email this pic to millions of people around the world, with my blog address attached, so that I will become famous.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Let the slideshow begin

The famous Martie Goddard (see interview below) has inspired me to get posting on the pic-front, Legion of Fans (LOF), so herewith for your enjoyment (I hope) are a few random snaps from the 09 safari so far...

You never know when you're going to see a leopard. Mrs Blog and I have had some of our best leopard sightings in the middle of the day and this one (above) was one of those. We were on our way from Pretoriuskop in the Kruger Park to the luxurious Tinga Private Game Lodge (the setting for my fifth book, SILENT PREDATOR) to visit a reader who had booked out one of Tinga's two camps in its entirety for his 70th birthday.

Mrs P and I were more intent on thoughts of a gourmet lunch and a splash in our private plunge pool than animals, and it was a stinker of a day so we didn't expect to see much. As we crossed the river near the Delaporte water hole, not far from Skukuza, Mrs B yelled out "STOP." which is a sure sign that I'm either snoozing and veering off the road, or that there is an interesting animal to be seen. Fortunately it was the latter.

"Oh baby, come with me to zee casbah... I wish to 'old you in my arms and..." We came across Pepe le Pew (above) and his significant other near Dom pan in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (there is, as you can see, no particular order to these pictures. This one was taken a few weeks ago). This very healthy mating pair of lions were at it, in true lion fashion, about every 10 minutes. It's good to be the king of the beasts, but hard work sometimes.

And here he is (above), showing his Angry Dragon face. These two lions were both collared, which made taking pics of them quite hard. However, they were both in magnificent condition.

Here's the male again, looking quite tough, but in fact he's (literally) shagged out.

Moving right along, and again in no particular order, above we have a picture of a Yellow Billed Kite teaching a frog how to fly.
Mrs Blog and I sat for ages at Guvalala Pan, in Hwange, watching a squadron of Kites snatching frogs from the waterhole. Kites aren't (as far as I know) great fishing birds, but the masses of forgs in the waterhole represented a target-rich environment for these Top Guns. Time after time each bird swooped and picked up a big fat frog. Sometimes they were successful, and landed nearby for a meal of frog's legs and gizzards, but often the slippery suckers would slide from their talons.

This frog (probably one of the lucky ones, if he survived his first flight) bounced, dambuster-bomb-style, along the surface of the pond.

And to round things off it's back to Kruger again. I took this pic in the Tinga Private Game Lodge concession, on the banks of the Sand River. This lady and her family were busy devouring a kudu, and she'd taken a breather (a panter, actually) to try and digest her dinner.
This sighting was during the fabulous SILENT PREDATOR SAFARI in which eight lucky readers enjoyed some truly magnificent game viewing in between their bubble baths and sumptuousfeasts at Tinga.
If you're interested in coming on safari with me in Africa in 2010, drop me a line at tonyparknews(at)gmail (dot) com and I'll put you on my newsletter distribution list. The newsletter will have details of future tours, and more pictures to make you wish you were here, with me, in Africa.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Martie Goddard interview...

If you've visited this blog before you'll know that the diminutive Mrs Blog and I spend six months of the year in Africa and six months back in Australia.

On an average trip we’ll spend two to three months in the Kruger National Park. The wildlife is great here (where I am right now), the camp sites have electricity, and there are shops in the park selling cold beer. What more could you want?

We like to think of ourselves as Kruger regulars, but our experiences pale into insignificance when you consider that Martie Goddard, who is camping near us in Malelane Camp in the south of Kruger, is spending A WHOLE YEAR in Kruger. She’s traveling solo in a caravan.

She is, in her own words, living her dream. Martie is also writing a blog, and unlike me she actually does have a LEGION of fans. Last month, Martie had 132,000 hits on her blog, and this month she’s hoping for 150,000.

I won’t tell you how many hits I get a month, but suffice it to say, I would be a very happy man if I had nearly as many hits on my blog as Martie has on hers, and if as many people read my books as read Martie’s blog I would be a very rich man.

Martie has become something of a celebrity here in the park, and has been interviewed on national radio. You can read Martie's blog, in which she posts pictures of interesting animal and bird sightings on the South African National Parks' website here.

While cooking an extraordinary dinner for Mrs Blog and me on her braai (barbie), Martie agreed to be interviewed by me on the eve of her 171st day in Kruger.

(To all Martie's regulars who were wondering why she didn't blog last night, I'm afraid I'm to blame, but as a consolation, here is the interview...)

TP: Who is Martie Goddard, in 25 words or less?

MG: Let me get a beer first. I’m 45 years old, South African, with two children, Megan and Carmen, aged 25 and 21. Megan teaches children with special needs and Carmen is in her final year of wildlife management studies. I’m married to Stephen and we live in Doha in the Middle East. We’ve lived there for 11 years. Isn’t that 25 words already?

TP: Yes. Why are you spending a year in Kruger?

MG: I always tell people life is too short not to do what you really want to. If you come here for five, 10, 15 days, it’s never enough. So why not a year? Here I can bring Kruger to people who can’t come here, and there are many people in the world who know about Kruger, but don’t have the means to get here. Even in SA there are people who might never be able to come here.

TP: So it’s not just the world’s longest holiday?

MG: No. My husband says it’s not a holiday. That’s why I can’t have a beer at 7 in the morning. He says this is my job – and writing my blog.

TP: What did Stephen say when you told him you wanted spend a year away from home?

MG: A few months before we left, he sat me down and said, ‘you know what, we’ve never actually discussed you going!’ At first he didn’t believe I was going to do it. Then I got a second job, teaching English in Doha (at the moment Martie’s main job is as the PA for an investment company). I taught English in the evening in order to fund the trip. I think Stephen only realised it was serious because I messaged him to say it was 40 days until I left.

A lot of people probably thought I would go for a month, three months or six months. Maybe I didn’t think I’d make the whole thing, but I’ve always been someone who will see something through.

TP: What’s the longest period you’d spent in Kruger before this.

MG: 14 or 15 days.

TP: Why Kruger – why not travel around South Africa or some neighbouring countries for a year?

MG: Apart from going to the Masai Mara I’ve never wanted to go to other game parks. Maybe one day I’ll go to the Okavango (in Botswana – scene of my next novel, TP), but to me there is no place like Kruger.

TP: What makes Kruger so special?

MG: Every day is different. No day is ever the same. The facilities here are great, and I feel safer in Kruger than what I would in Joburg, Cape Town or Durban. I’ve never worried about going to bed at night.

TP: You feel safe, that’s good... but what’s been the scariest thing that’s happened to you the last 171 days.

MG: I got chased by an elephant between Letaba and Phalaborwa. There were people parked looking at something and I drove up to them. The guy said ‘there’s an angry elephant’. I’ve never been scared of elephants and I saw this one grazing. I drove past and as I got next to him, about 25 metres away, he started running. He was breaking every tree and branch in front of him to get to me, so I reversed the Slug (the Slug is Martie’s bakkie/pickup) at about 100kph! The elephant kept coming. All I could do was just shout. At that point I shouted in Afrikaans: “Stop jou donder!” (stop you thunder – it’s like a swear word, but not that bad).

TP: What’s been your happiest moment in the past 171 days?

MG: There have been so many. I’ll have to think about that one. Every day is happy.

TP: Do you ever get sad or lonely?

MG: I don’t get lonely, but I do get sad. I speak to thousands of people every day through the blog, by email, and the people I meet in the park, but I do get sad and I miss Stephen, and I think that’s just natural.

TP: Just on that point, is this a good thing or bad thing for a relationship, or does it depend on the relationship?

MG: It depends on the relationship. But Stephen flies for a living so he’s away from home quite often. This (with me being away) gives him the opportunity to blow the house down with his stereo speakers and his music. He says he’s blowing the cobweb out of the Bose!.

TP: How hard is it camping by yourself?

MG: In the beginning it was very difficult, because I didn’t know how to do things. Stephen came with me (for the first 10 days) and showed me how to tow a caravan and set it up. He showed me how to tell if the caravan was level, but then when it came to showing me how to put up the caravan’s tent he didn’t know how to do it! We had to get someone to show us how to do it!

It was quite funny. Stephen bought the man who showed us a bottle of whisky. He told me after that to only ask the women in the campground for help, and not to buy a bottle of whisky for everyone who helped me.

I met some nice people at Letaba, John and Norma, and gave me a checklist to go through before I pack up and set up the caravan. I still SMS John sometimes for advice and I got a message today from Norma saying he worries every time I have to move.

Now, though, camping’s a piece of cake.

TP: Your blog is very successful. Did you ever think it would take off like this?

MG: No. When I left, I said to Stephen. if only one person reads it I’ll be happy. If one person got to be closer to Kruger because of the blog I’d be happy.

TP: What’s the oddest thing you’ve been asked by someone on the blog?

MG: People ask me to find animals and post pictures. Someone asked me to find a meerkat, but I told him I’d have to drive for days to find one (there are none in the Kruger Park). Someone else is waiting for a dung beetle, so I’m waiting for the rains to come so I can take a picture of one.

TP: Favourite animal?

MG: I don’t have one. I like them all.

TP: Favourite bird then?

MG: I’ll go with my husband on this one, because he thought it was so rare when he first saw one: the lilac breasted roller. When I started seriously into birding I realised this was one of the most common birds in Kruger!

TP: Favourite beer?

MG: Hansa.

TP: Are you the luckiest person in Kruger or the craziest?

MG: I think I’m both.

TP: Could you live here full time.

MG: No,

TP: Why not?

MG: I think I could do the blog for a year, but not full time. Without the blog I would have been bored, and lonely. The blog takes a lot of my time, but I couldn’t do it forever and live like this forever.

TP: What’s the best thing about living in caravan as opposed to living in a house or flat?

MG: Sheesh, no man, living in a house is much better than living in caravan!

TP: Let me ask that question another way… what do you miss most about living in a house?

MG: To have a full bathroom; and to have a nice couch and fully equipped kitchen. However, I do like cooking on an open fire.

TP: What’s the one gadget you’re really pleased you bought or brought with you?

MG: It was actually a gift - an ice maker. Beer has to be cold.

TP: What’s the most useless thing you bought?

MG: The storm straps for the caravan awning - they were so short. People told me I had to have storm straps (broad nylon straps that stop a caravan’s awning blowing away), so I bought six of them, but they were all too short – only three metres long!

TP: What advice would give someone going on a long camping or caravanning holiday by themselves?

MG: I’m not an expert and I’m still learning most of the way. Take every day as it comes. Enjoy what goes wrong, as well as what goes right.

TP: What’s the most touching or memorable comment or email you’ve had from a reader?

MG: A woman emailed me to say she used to come to Kruger with her husband, but he had passed away. She’s over eighty and because her husband liked Kruger so much, she scattered his ashes at Pafuri picnic site (in the far north of the park) under the big sycamore fig. Unfortunately the tree was uprooted in the 2000 floods and washed down the river into Mozambique, so she told me her husband is now floating in the Indian Ocean somewhere. Her sense of humour was fantastic.

TP: Would you do all this again?

MG: Yes, I’d do it again. I don’t know if my husband would allow it, but I’d definitely do it again. I enjoy it, and I love the different things I see each day. Also, once I’ve been in Kruger for nearly a year, how could I just come back for five or 10 days?

I would never have been able to do this without the support of my husband and my family and my friends

TP: You’re seeing Stephen in 12 days time (he’s flying out to meet Martie for some mid-trip R and R) What’s the first thing you’re going to say to him?

MG: Engel, (this is Afrikaans for ‘angel’, not fridge, which is what I thought), I miss you and I just want to touch you, you are real!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coming soon.. an interview with Martie Goddard

Martie Goddard is a South African woman who has been living in the Middle East for the last 11 years. She's currently spending a year touring the Kruger National Park from top to bottom, all by herself, in a second hand caravan.

Martie is something of a local legend and I'll be posting an interview with her here soon. Watch this space...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thank you all.

Yes, I know I'm very busy, but I've found some time to catch up on my shameless self-googling and can report that all of you Australians who bought IVORY propelled me to number three in the September ranking of the top 10 Australian authors , as resported by the Bestselling Books website .

Thanks. I owe each and every one of you a beer.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Big news next week

Phew, Legion of Fans (LOF), this relaxing life of leisure I lead can get exhausting sometimes.

The small but perfectly formed Mrs Blog and I are slowly but surely getting our camping life sorted out here in the Kruger National Park. I have lots of news for you, but I also have one book to write and two to edit, so I plan on blogging in short bursts for the forseeable feature. I also have to resurrect my Getaway Blog, so be prepared to be diverted over there for the weighty, meaningful stuff.

Here, all you'll get is fluff, pictures (to come shortly once we get around to downloading them) and shameless self-promotion.

On the shameless self-promotion front, my latest book, IVORY is officially (make that supposedly) out now in South Africa.

I've been reliably informed by my publishers that October 4 was the official release date, but I haven't seen any in the shops yet. If you are one of our South African readers please feel free to stamp your feet and pound on the counters in your nearest Exclusive Books or CNA branch because if they haven't got my book in yet, then they jolly well should have.

In coming blogs I'll be talking about the newest edition to the Blog family, "Broomas", our bouncing baby (well, 12-year-old) Land Rover Defender; my appointment as Patron of a wildlife charity (seriously); the most evil vervet monkey on earth; the price and quality of camping gadgets in South Africa; and the perils and pitfalls of registering a vehicle in this country (but I won't be doing that until I actually have finished registering Broomas, just in case some vengeful bureaucrat is keeping tabs on me on the blog while my application for a Traffic Registration Number is being processed).

Too much news, too little time, too much writing and editing to do, too much beer to drink.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong

No, I'm not talking about the rest of the Silent Predator tour - that was fantastic. We had a wonderful time in Cape Town and even got upgraded to the luxurious Table Bay hotel (the Raddisson, where we were supposed to stay, is also a lovely hotel, but it was undergoing rennovations that weren't completed by the time we arrived).

I've had some great feedback and no death threats from the lovely people who went on the tour, and the indefatigable Mr W from the Africa Safari Co is already hinting that we could be safari-ing again in 2010, so start saving.

As to the title of this post, things went a little less like clockwork after the tour, when Mrs Blog and I flew to Zimbabwe.

For a start, our friends who look after our trusty (if aged) Land Rover, Tonka, were finally kicked off their farm. They'd survived a couple of rounds of potential evictions in the past, and had thought they were relatively secure under a deal they'd done with a local seed company. Much of what they were growing at the time of their rushed removal was seed maize - ie a crop that would have supplied seed for the so-called "new" farmers who had taken over formerly white-owned farms in Zimbabwe.

In reality, the vast majority of farms seized under Comrade President's land grab are overgrown and ruined. Little wonder, then, that the seed company stood by and let a johnny-come-lately would-be war veteran seize our friend's farm.

I say "would be" because it's rare to meet a genuine veteran of Zimbabwé's liberation war who actually received a farm and contined to work it. Many farms have gone to relatives and cronies of Cde President (not a few to his wife), and party hacks.

The power sharing deal between ZANU-PF and the MDC is not working. There seems to be more of a power vacuum in Zimbabwe, as evidenced by this latest land grab. Although our friends have a legal right to be on their farm, the local police refused to intervene, even after the invader in question threatened farm workers' lives if they tried to support their employers.

Ai yi yi yi yi. Or eish, as we say here in South Africa (where I'm writing this from).

Anyway, it is no small measure of our friends' big-heartedness that they managed to clutch start old Tonka and evacutate him from the farm shed as well. There was no time, however, for them to get Tonka's list of ailments (hangovers from our last trip) seen to, and we were unable to get him back to tip-top health in time for Mrs Blog and I to attend the Hwange Game Census (an annual event we take part in, in Zimbabwe's biggest national park).

So, Mrs B and I made the decision to leave Tonka in Land Rover hospital in the capital, Harare, and bus it to Bulawayo, in western Zimbabwe.

When I think of buses in Africa I usually think of livestock riding on the roof and grim faced people inside the coach crossing themselves. Not so the Citylink Shuttle from the Rainbow Hotel in Harare (the hotel formerly known as the Sheraton). No sirree Robert... this bus had a hostie, and complimentary chicken burger and coke included in the price. (oops, I don't mean the hostie was included...)

We even had a TV. For most of the trip the TV played Dolly Parton songs, although the last half hour of the journey to Bulawayo featured a DVD of Michael Jackson live in Budapest. I don't know what was funnier - the late Mr Wacko grabbing at his chrome codpiece (this had the party of be-suited African bureaucrats in the bus rolling in the aisles), or the catatonic fans.

In Bulawayo we were able to hitch a ride with an occaisonal commentator on this blog, The Black Mustarfa. He and his lady travelling companion were in a rented South African 4x4 and also headed to the game count in Hwange.

Just when we thought something might have been coming right on the Zimbabwean leg of our journey it started to rain.

The idea with the game census is that the count is held over the night of the last full moon of the dry season. In theory, there is little natural water left in the national park, just before the rains come, and animals will congreate around the remaining water holes and be easy to see (by the light of the moon) and count.

The 2008-09 rainy season, however, was a doozy and there was water everywhere. That meant that rather than congregating, animals would be spread out all over the place. To make matters worse (for us counters, not for the animals), it rained steadily from the time the count kicked off, at midday, and the precipitation increased to a full-blown thunderstorm by about nine that evening. Clouds covered the full moon.

As a result, Mrs Blog and I, along with our first-time counting friends from South Africa, counted absolutely zero animals.

On the bright side, we did see a nice herd of about 500 buffalo the day before the count, and some elephants, giraffe and a nice pair of mating lions on the day after. So, there are still some animals left in Zimbabwe.

We hitched a lift back to Bulawayo with some other counters, and passed deserted, overgrown farm after deserted overgrown farm.

But the land was greening-up and new shoots were appearing almost before our eyes. Even if we hadn't seen many of them, and even though there is poaching on a serious scale in Zimbabwe, I knew that the animals were out there, somewhere.

Everyone on the count offered to help Mrs Blog and me, and I promised them all that Tonka would return, as soon as he was fixed.

The national parks staff were glad to see us again, and had done a good job keeping Robins Camp (where we were based) as spic and span as they could on a next-to-zero budget.

My friend the farmer, back in Harare, was putting on a brave face after losing his home and his livelihood. We went out to Lake Chivero, near the capital, and watched him immerse himself in his favourite sport - sailing.

All is not right in Zimbabwe - far from it - and just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong, but as Mrs Blog and I boarded a plane for South Africa I realised I couldn't wait to get back next year.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

This is Africa calling...

I could tell you that it’s hard work escorting a tour around Africa, and that staying in the lap of luxury is not all it’s cracked up to be… but I’d be lying.

Greetings, at long last, Legion of Fans (LOF) from the stark but beautiful Karoo, in South Africa.

I’m on The Pride of Africa, Rovos Rail’s luxurious olden-days train, somewhere between Pretoria and Cape Town.

We are Day 10, or something like that, into the inaugural “Silent Predator Safari” in which yours truly and the indefatigable Mr H from the Africa Safari Co are leading eight hardy readers on a grueling 13-day tour of the best South Africa has to offer.

I know some of you wanted to join us, but were unable to do so because of financial and other issues. All I can say to you is: sell a child, a car or some superfluous organs because if we’re doing this again next year (and I certainly hope we are) then you would be mad not to join us.

We kicked off with five nights in the Kruger National Park – three nights in the national parks rest camps at Skukuza and Satara, followed by two nights in Tinga Private Game Lodge.

Attentive members of the legion will recognise all these places from my books, and the idea is that on the tour we visit places where my fictitious characters are shot, stabbed, lost, kidnapped, or (ahem) intimate etc.

We had some truly sensational game viewing in Kruger. By the second day the group had seen all of Africa’s Big 5 – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. In fact, on the second day we saw all five in one drive, and then four out of five on the afternoon leg… but who’s counting.

Tinga (which features in SILENT PREDATOR) had a lot to live up to in the animal stakes, but head guide Mr Q did not disappoint us.

On a guided walk along the banks of the Sabie River we saw something that neither he nor I had ever seen – a big crocodile killing another croc. Right before our eyes. Sabie means fear in English and the river lived up to its name as this was one scary sight.

From Kruger we jet-setted back to Johannesburg and thence on to Pretoria where we picked up our five-star choo choo. I love The Pride of Africa. The gentle rocking of the carriages… the lovingly restored coachwork… the all-inclusive bar… I could go on, but I fear the lunch gong is about to sound and I really must squeeze in a bloody Mary first.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Join the pride!

It's out! Yes, my first non-fiction book, in which I've co-written the biography of South African Lion man Kevin Richardson is hitting the shelves as we speak.

Above is the Australian cover of Kevin's book, "Part of the Pride - My Life Among Africa's Big Cats" and below is a video in which Kevin talks about the book and teaches me a thing or two about shameless self-promotion. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Someone else vil ask zee qvestions

I love it when someone interviews me. It allows me to direct you to new and interesting websites and it makes it look like I'm contributing to my blog, without actually having to do anything.

So, if you can be bothered reading more about me and my life, or if you just want to check out two really cool websites, you can find my thoughts on all matters writerly at the Writers' Resource Centre, and my thoughts on living your dream (well, my dream) on travel writer Annabel Candy's funky blog here.

Just had a great night at Lane Cove Library (my local) with a fun crowd who asked lots of questions. Thanks, Karen, for having me over again, and to the good people from Moirs Bookshop in Lane Cove.

Come see the three amigos at North Sydney

Can't think of what to buy dad for father's day? If you live or work in the North Sydney area (or if you don't but would like a free chocolate) then I urge you to come and meet me, along with two excellent Aussie authors Grant Hyde and David Rollins this Friday, August 28.

Grant, David and I will be hounding unsuspecting commuters and bribing them into buying our books from 8am to 9.30am on Friday, outside Dymocks in the Mount Street pedestrian mall.

Free chocolates and bookmarks will be on offer and for a gold coin donation to charity you can even have your father's day present gift wrapped.

Grant's first book is LORDS OF THE PACIFIC, a ripper yarn set in the olden days on the high seas, while David reveals his version of what happened to Korean Airlines Flight 007 in his latest spy-action blockbuster THE ZERO OPTION.

Myself, I will be spruiking IVORY.

Oh, yes, and winner of the caption competition, as judged by Alex the Pirate the Wench (who does not know about family connections on the blog) is.... Ali G. I have no idea which of his 17 captions she liked best.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Urgent: The Rhinos need YOU!

Achtung, Achtung, Sydney-based readers... We interrupt the normal drivel to bring you something worthy...

The good people at the SAVE Foundation (NSW) still have some vacancies for their annual black tie ball and fundraiser, which will be held at the Hunters Hill Sailing Club on Saturday September 5 from 7pm.

I will be speaking and there will be an auction of various goodies to raise money for the repopulation of Botswana's Moremi Game Reserve with rhinos from South Africa.

I'll also be auctioning off a character name or two in my next book.

There are still tickets available and I urge you, neigh, beseech you to support this exceptionally worthy cause. Cost is $90 per head, but that includes dinner, plus South African beers and wines, a donation to a good cause, dancing, and, of course, me. I will be selling signed books on the night and all profits go to SAVE.

You MUST join me at this event and you MUST email immediately to book and pay for your tickets.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A brief pause

I have a few days leave from the round (bits of) Australia tour promoting my new book IVORY, Legion of Fans (LOF) so thought I would check in and update you all on the progress so far.

My, my. I'd forgotten how much y'all love the free stuff. I think it's going to take Alex the Pirate Wench (my assistant publicist) about a week to read through and decipher all those comments on the last post. She is a principled young lady of a conservative and proper disposition, so don't expect extra points for fart jokes and other smut (although I was impressed by these).

Had me a fine 'ol time in the golden west (Australia) and attended some excellent functions. At least I think they were excellent. I was rating them according to the scale of my hangover and numbers of books sold, and in this respect the Painted Dog Conservation Inc cocktail party at the Hyatt in Perth deserves an honourable mention. (Though I love every single function I attend and every person who attends.... especially the ones who buy books).

As with the dinner I attended last year for the highly efficient and exceedingly nice John and Ange, who run this worthy charity, we auctioned off two character names in my next book to raise money for the stinky but loveable painted doggies. And my oh my, did we get a couple of top names for next year's book. You'll just have to wait until next year to find out who they are.

I can reveal that the auction of character names netted about half the total amount raised on the night, so thank you very much to all who bid. We also sold out of books (and took orders for many more) and I was so hungover the next morning I could barely speak.

However, cowboy-up I did, and speak I did at a simply beautiful shop called Raw By Nature at Guildford, Perth. Owner Leanne persuaded me to come and talk and sign books and, lured by the promise of a Bloody Mary in the pub across from the shop afterwards, I did plenty of both. If you live in Perth or visit there, make sure you check out both the shop and the pub. I managed to stay vertical, until making it to Perth Airport, where I collapsed into a comfy chair with a beer.

I don't want you to think I spend all my time on tour drinking, but this past weekend was proof that book signings and alcohol definitely do mix.

First up, on Friday night, it was my (serious) honour and pleasure to join with teachers, parents and students from John Paul College in Coffs Harbour on the NSW mid north coast to help them raise money for a school they support in Kawalazi village in Malawi.

All jokes aside, I was touched by the kindness and generosity of these people and the work they're doing to support kids and teachers with virtually nothing but a will to learn. (Also, they put the booze on after the function - in moderation and for adults only, of course). Doing good and drinkng red. I loved it. All profits from books sold on the night went to the Kawalazi school.

More good causes and a seriously irresponsible consumption of alcohol were the order of the next day, Saturday, when I addressed a gathering at the Maclean Services club at the invitation of my good mate and fellow Pan Macmillan writer, Peter Watt. Peter and I raffled off sets of our books and raised a tidy sum for the Maclean Hosptial auxilliary committee.

Where better to hold an event for writers and readers than a club with a deck overlooking the sun-flecked Clarence River in northern NSW, complete with gratis wine and a bar serving happy hour schooners for $3.60 a pop? I just about moved there on the spot.

Pete and the club have put together a couple of "Meet the Author" tallks so far and have earned the small but perfectly formed town of Maclean the richly deserved title of Literary Capital of the Lower Clarence, according to their local paper.

By the way, LOF, if you like my books then I INSIST that you go out and buy all of Peter Watt's books. They are ripping yarns and, besides, if you start reading them you can stop hassling me about writing more books.

Back home, and back to work now, as I have just received the first edits on my next book which is called..... Book 7. So, I'm busy again with no excuse for faffing.

Winner of the caption competition to be announced soon...

Friday, August 07, 2009

Yes We Can.... win a free book

The IVORY tour around (limited parts of) Australia is progressing well, thank you very much. I'm currently in Perth, WA, where I've met many exceptionally nice people. Some of them have even heard of me.

Here's a picture of me pontificating to the 254-strong crowd (this figure is offical) the other night at the Marion Cultural Centre in South Australia.

To celebrate the success (if I do say so myself) of the tour so far I am declaring a snap caption competition.

Come up with a caption for the above picture and post it in a comment. There's a free signed copy of ZAMBEZI in it for the winner. Competition closes Thursday, August 13, 6pm Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Newsflash... cheap books and Frank Coates

And now we bring you some late breaking news, which will be of interest to Trin (and probably no one else).

I spoke to Aussie author Frank Coates the other day. Frank also writes books set in Africa (though his are about east Africa rather than southern Africa). Frank is going on a P&O cruise (like I did recently) to talk at the on-board book club, and contacted me to have a chat about shipboard life.

He was a thoroughly nice chap and it was good to chat on the phone (for about an hour) to another Africa addict.

And on the subject of book prices and two-for-one deals, Trin, I would direct you to a certain chain of discount stores with a bold red and white circular logo where you can buy a copy of IVORY with a free copy of ZAMBEZI thrown in for a ridiculously good price.

That is all.

Elvis has entered the cultural centre

Day three of the round-Australia tour (except for Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, and the Northern Territory and ACT) dawns LOF and I am reposing in Adelaide international airport, reflecting on and recovering from drinking a good deal of heavily sedimented beer.

On Monday night I spoke at my biggest ever writerly gig - at the Marion Cultural Centre in the Adelaide suburb of Marion. I felt like my boyhood hero, Elvis Presley must have felt just before going on stage (except I didn't have any deep fried peanut butter sandwiches or barbiturates).

More than 200 people.

I sh*t you not, Legion of Fans (LOF). 200 plus.

Of course this speaks for more to the organising ability of Jenny from the Marion Cultural Centre and her strong support from the local community than it does to the pulling power of little old me (well, tall old me), but all the same I was flabbergasted when I was called on stage - from the Green Room (yes, the Green room) and saw all those people there.

Actually, I couldn't really see all the people, because there were lights - yes, lights - on the stage shining up on me.

If I'd had a hat it wouldn't have fit me anymore. I don't mind public speaking - quite like it as a matter of fact - but a good crowd for me is about 30 or 30, and my former personal best was about 100. 200. I am still shaking my head.

Perhaps they misread the invitation. "I'm Australia's Wilbur Smith, not the Wilbur," I told the assembled masses.

Even taking into account the presence of my friend Colonel G and his lovely wife, C, and my two beautiful baby cousins who I hadn't seen for some 32 years (and who are no longer babies, but have babies of their own), this was not my usual gathering of ring-ins and relatives.

And lots of people bought books!

South Australia, how could I have neglected you for all these years?

In other news of little consequence to anyone else but myself, I spoke to a capacity crowd at St Ives Library to kick off the tour (not 200, but still a full room). Again, this excellent turnout was due to the indefatigable efforts of Penny the local librarian who always goes to great lengths to decorate her room in an African theme. She also serves a mean scone.

What else...?

I met Redcap, a regular poster on this blog, in Adleaide. Redcap is a journo and book reviewer (just the sort of reader a chap like me needs) and she does, in fact, have a cap of red hair. Over a Coopers Pale Ale or three Redcap interviewed me for a forthcoming magazine feature while I devoured the best pie I have ever had in my life - Duck and Rabbit - at Adelaide's Exeter Hotel in Rundle Street.

Last night I had dinner with the Colonel and Mrs Colonel, and D, a fellow Africa addict who was one of the first people to ever email me after my first book, FAR HORIZON was published. Had an excellent African-themed meal of Cape Malay Curry and too much excellent South Australian red wine.

Of course, while I've been having a fine time in South Australia I have also been bombareded with emails and thinly veiled threats about my lack of appearances in Victoria and Tasmania.

Off to Perth, West(ern) Australia today for more functions, more drinking and more interviews. No doubt the Victorians and Tasmanians will not be amused.

And they call this working?

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Yes, Leigon of Fans (LOF), as all four of you may know, today (August 1) marks the official release of my sixth novel, IVORY. I know several of you eager beavers have already been down to your local Big W and bought a copy - and for that I thank you.

Not only is IVORY out in print, but it's also being released today as an audio book by my very good friends at Bolinda.

If you're housebound or one of our overseas legionnaires (or if you just can't tear yourself away from my blog for more than a few minutes) you might like to check out Aussie online bookseller which is selling signed copies of IVORY over the 'net. I went to their offices and signed about a million books (just kidding - a sizeable number, but not that many) last week.

If you click on the cover picture of IVORY on the Booktopia site you'll also find your way to a short audio interview in which I talk about the book. It's like a mini version of one of my podcasts, minus the school boy humour.

Mrs Blog and I hosted the launch of IVORY for family and friends on Thursday night in the St James Hotel in Sydney. All I can say about that is that it is now Saturday afternoon and I am still feeling a touch seedy. I think a good night was had by all, but by the end of it I was too drunk to care anyway.

Mrs Blog and I crept into stately Park Towers (where we live) sometime after 2am and made as much noise as only drunk people who are trying to be quiet can. Mother Blog and Ali G (yes, they are an item) were trying to sleep in the spare room, having sensibly pulled stumps much earlier in the evening.

I bravely fronted for the first talk of my IVORY promotional tour at St Ives Library at 11am on Friday morning and, fortified by tea and scones, managed to mutter a few words without passing out.

I'm off on the road bright and early Monday morning, flying first to South Australia and Western Australia. I'll keep you posted on my travels, as I can't think of anything else worth writing.

If you buy a copy of IVORY I hope you enjoy it. And if you don't, remember that if you can't say something nice about someone then...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Beaver has landed

My most memorable birthday – in fact the only one I can really remember – was my fifth. It was the day the man landed on the moon, in 1969.

It was a good day all around. I was sick, so I had the day off school (I suppose I was actually sick, as five is a bit young to be faking), which was good, and I remember being very pleased with my present, which was one of those brown cardboard-type school cases. If that doesn’t speak of a poor but happy childhood, I don’t know what does.

Not only was I happy to be home, sick and in possession of a cheap bag, but Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Very memorable, all round.

My 40th birthday was a good one, too. My first book, FAR HORIZON, had just come out and I spent the day with friends from Australia and Africa on board a houseboat on Lake Kariba. Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, I can’t remember much about it because we started drinking beer at 6am, and finished some time around 2am the following morning.

My 45th, however, is another birthday that will stay with me forever.

I wasn’t exactly sleepless the night before, eagerly anticipating a horde of presents or a big surprise. That doesn’t happen in your 40s. The alarm went off at 6.45am and Mrs Blog, who, unlike me, has a normal job, reached over and turned it off.

“Happy Birthday,” she said.

I’d actually forgotten. “Oh.”

“Do you want your present now?”

Now I was awake, if you catch my drift. “Yes, ma’am!”

Instead, she reached down beside the bed and pulled out one of those girly little gift bags. It was a depressingly small present and, when she passed it to me, depressingly light.

I’m a hard person to buy presents for. Other than a sports car (with someone else paying the on-road costs), lifetime business class travel, and a private game reserve in Africa, there’s nothing much in life I really want. People usually end up giving me books, which I like. Mother Blog gave me Bill Bryson’s excellent Dictionary for Writers and Editors. I’m that hard to buy for. People don’t even bother with ties, socks and underpants – they go straight for the dictionary.

“Be careful opening it,” Mrs Blog said.

Inside the girly bag was a card, with two dogs in a sports car striking a Thelma and Louise pose, and small feather-light package. Even a handkerchief would weigh more, I thought. When I carefully opened it, it contained a piece of paper.

“What does it say?” I asked Mrs Blog. My reading glasses were wherever I had mislaid them last.

I could see at the top of the page a fuzzy logo that looked like the Sydney Opera House. Maybe, I thought briefly, we were going to the Opera. A bit gay, I thought, but no more so than watching Australia’s Next Top Model. I saw an opera once, Madam Butterfly, which I liked. It was a bit like Miss Saigon.

Mrs Blog read from the paper, without the aid of spectacles. Young wives are good. “Sydney Seaplanes… boarding time, 11.15am, departing Rose Bay, 11.30am, for Cottage Point and a three-course lunch at the Cottage Point Inn.”

“OMG. WTF,” I said.

This is something that we (and, I suspect most couples in Sydney) have dreamed of doing for years. Sydney Seaplanes operates a small fleet (squadron?) of smart looking little red and white aircraft that do joyflights over the harbour and take lucky/rich people off to lunch at exotic locations.

Mrs Blog had taken the day off work. We took a taxi to Rose Bay, the ancestral home of the seaplane and flying boat in Sydney. When I was boy (back when men used to land on the moon), twin engine Catalina and four-engine Sunderland flying boats still flew in and out of Rose Bay in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

The flying boats once took people to England, via about four hundred stops, but in their latter years serviced less exotic places such as Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island.

The Sydney Seaplanes aircraft are much smaller, but no less glamorous. There is something undeniably posh about a departure lounge on a pontoon. We were met by one of the pilots, a Canadian named Jeff, who soon after introduced us to our pilot, a Canadian named Geoff.

Geoff with a G showed us to our aircraft, which was also Canadian, and called a Beaver. It seemed you had to be Canadian to work for this company, and if you weren’t called Geoff or Jeff then you had to be named after a hardworking Canadian mammal.

It was a tight fit, sliding into the beaver, but once inside I felt like it was where I belonged.

“The Beaver,” Geoff informed us, as he started the engine and we drifted away from the wharf, “was built in 1961. She’s like a fine old sports car that’s been lovingly restored – quite a few times.” It was nice knowing I wasn’t the oldest thing on board. Sort of.

With yachts and cruisers and kayaks all around us the patch of water that served as the runway looked impossibly short, yet Geoff had his little aeroplane off the water quicker than you could say Molsons, or eh, or whatever it is Canadians say.

The weather, I should add, was unseasonably perfect. Sun shining, zero cloud, and about 22 degrees. As the birthday boy I was allowed to sit in the co-pilot’s seat. I looked back and Mrs Blog was grinning from ear to ear. She loves little aeroplanes.

I tried not to smile or laugh every time Geoff said something like, “…this is the Beaver, tracking past Manly,” or something like that. I was desperately hoping he’d say, “the Beaver has landed”, or, better yet, “the Beaver is wet,” when we touched down. (Mother Blog’s birthday card to me read, ‘you are only young once, but you can be immature indefinitely’).

Geoff with a G told us he’d seen some whales playing off Palm Beach on his earlier flight that morning (perhaps while he was taking some movie stars to breakfast or Nicole Kidman's children to pilates or whatever it is rich people do). Sure enough, as he brought the Beaver down a bit and banked slowly over Barrenjoey lighthouse, there were two humpback whales frolicking in the shallows, no more than a hundred metres from the golden strip of shoreline. Could this day get any better?

I’d heard of the Cottage Point Inn, but never been there before. Cottage Point is on the Hawkesbury River, in a national park north of Sydney. It’s the sort of place you pull into in your luxury motor cruiser, or your sea plane. I later found out it has a couple of rooms, too, just in case your propeller falls off, or your pilot gets taken by a shark, or something like that.

We landed bang on midday and Geoff shushed up to the wharf like he did this every day, which he probably does. We were met and shown to the best table on the deck, overlooking the sparkling river. The waitress offered to move the potted tree (it was on rollers) to give us some shade, but not having seen the sun for so long during the cold, wet Sydney winter, we were content to soak up some much-needed rays.

The food and service were superb. I had sardines wrapped in Pancetta for entrée, snapper for main, and a banana pie for desert. Mrs Blog had the scallops, Jewfish, and cheese platter.

A few idle rich people drifted in and out over the three hours we sat eating, drinking and chatting in the sun, though none of them had their own plane.

Sometimes I wish I was back in Africa, and sometimes I am reminded that there is no place in the world like Sydney. This is what’s good about my life – that and Mrs Blog.

Check out Sydney Seaplanes for yourself. Their packages aren’t cheap, but when I think that I had whales, sunshine, good food, good wine, a millionaire’s view of my home town, and the Beaver all in one day – that’s priceless.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tony Park Parkcast Episode 3 - You Ask, I Answer

In which I answer all those probing, in-depth, tricky questions (but mostly just the easy ones) you have asked.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Two vacancies on the SILENT PREDATOR safari

Attention all! I've had two cancellations (due to unforseen circumstances) on the safari I'm leading to South Africa in September with the Africa Safari Co.

The safari is still going ahead, but the organisers would like to set off with a full complement. If anyone's interested or knows someone who might be, please pass it on and let me know.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Living the dream... vicariously

Now, if you think I have a good life (and I do), living in Africa's great national parks for six months of the year and the land of no bottled water for the remainder, then you should pop over and have a look at this blog on the South African National Parks website.

The blog's author, Martie, is a South African woman who has been living abroad, but has returned to SA to spend a year in Kruger, living her dream. Yes, that's right, a year camping in the Kruger National Park.

Martie posts pictures of the animals and birds she's seen each day, and shots taken in the camps.

If you like Africa, Kruger, or wildlife, you'll love it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bottled water... farm invasions... ANTM...

Where to start? There is so little happening in my world right now that it's hard to know where to to start rambling.

I've worked out that I actually blog more when I'm busy. I know for a fact that when I'm in Africa, researching and writing my books, I consciously try and blog each day as a means of getting my brain into gear (and convincing Mrs Blog that I've actually started working, as opposed to... well, blogging).

But in the here and now, with a few weeks more of being in between books with little to do, I've faffed my way into a blogging standstill. Except for now, of course, because I'm feeling so guilty that I decided I must write something for you, all four of you remaining Legion of Fans (LOF) (and I fear that includes the relatives).

The only two things I can think to write about are bottle water and farm invasions - both of which have left me feeling thoroughly pissed off this week.

The important one first.... this week Mrs B and I received grim news that friends of ours in Zimbabwe have just had their farm invaded - again. They've been lucky (after a fashion) these last few years in that they have actually been allowed to keep farming, after being kicked off their land for a while in the early days of the invasions.

It's a complicated situation, and I don't want to into details for fear of identifying them and upsetting someone, but the upshot is that they've been able to hang in there on their property while others all over the country were evicted.

I'm not starry-eyed about the power sharing deal brokered between ZANU-PF and the MDC, and I don't think I even dared hope that with Mugabe still in total power in all but name only that there would be any sense injected into the land debate. What's happening, I guess, is that across the country there is a rash of last-minute land grabs (as in what's happened to our friend).

At least I hope it is a last minute grab. If it is, and our friends can hold out without bowing to this particular invader's threats of violence (threats of death to their African employees, so far), that they might be able to survive until some semblance of order does actually return to the country.

I remain, or at least I try to remain, optimistic for Zimbabwe. Africa's a roller-coaster and today's basket case country is tomorrrow's powerhouse. Mozambique was coming out of a long and bloody civil war when I first went to Africa in 1995 and today it's peaceful, welcoming, and, in its own way, forging ahead. It's still poor, but it's on the up. By contrast, Zimbabwe was peaceful and relatively prosperous when I first visited it in 1995. Now the country is gasping on its death bed.

But I am optimistic. In the years since Mugabe gave into demands for compensation by the veterans of the liberation war and allowed/encouraged/facillitated the farm invasions and subsequent land grab, Zimbabweans have flocked to the polls in a series of ill-fated elections.

Despite being beaten (literally) and bowed, opposition politicans have seen their votes increase and steadily added to their tally of seats. Voters have risked and suffered intimidation to exercise thier democratic right.

No matter whose figures you believe from the last election, the indisputable fact is that voting in Zimbabwe now cuts across racial, tribal and socio economic lines, and people who were once steadfast supporters of Mugabe's government have fallen in with the opposition.

Once there is real change at the top in Zimbabwe (that's a euphemism for someone departing, one way or another), I believe Zimbabwe has the potential to emerge as one of the continent's strongest democracies - perhaps its strongest.

Too many African countries have become one-party states in the post colonial era. Zimbabwe was one for many, many years following independence in 1980. South Africa is still one.

People sometimes ask me, "why hasn't someone just killed that man (in Zimabbwe)?". My answer is that no matter what you think of the man at the top, the very fact that no one has killed him speaks volumes about the decency, honesty and faith of the people of Zimbabwe.

Many people believe that if they continue to do the right thing, peacefully turning out to elections and exercising their democratic right to vote, that one day the incumbent government might live up to its end of the bargain and allow free and fair elections, free of violence, and accept the result.

Real change will come to Zimbabwe. Real peace and real democracy will come to Zimbabwe. I'm sure of it. I just hope our friends can hold out until it does.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, in my home state of New South Wales, we have a Premier who has decided to ban the sale of bottled water in plastic bottles. This ground-breaking initiative is because one tiny village, Bundanoon, got some favourable press for voting to ban the sale of bottled water in its town in protest against a drink company wanting to tap into their ground water to extract spring water.

There was also a hoo-hah about reducing the number of plastic bottles going into land fill. Our fearless Premier jumped on the bandwagon and decided that an announcement about banning the sale of a legal product (I think water is legal to sell and if people want to pay for it, I believe they have the right to, and bottlers and shops have the right to make money out of them) was a wise decision for the future betteremnt of the State. Talk about a case of too many politicians and too few issues... (that's Australia for you).

The Premier used the bottled water issue much in the same way that Robert Mugabe used the land issue - that is, to distract the general public's attention from a screwed-up economy and a poor-performing government.

Sure, we're talking about different degrees here, but the strategy's the same. Give me a f-ing break.

In South Australia there is legislation which provides for a refundable deposit on bottles. In parts of Europe, according to a show I saw on TV recently, plastic bottles are washed and re-used. Now there's an ida.

In poverty-stricken Zimbabwe you can't buy a bottle of beer or soft drink without returning an empty. Why can't our politicians learn as much about recycling from Zimbabwe as they can about political strategy?

(Oh, yes,,, ANTM? What does that stand for? Why, America's Next Top Model, of course. Not as good as the Aussie version, as the contestants tend to be strippers and crack-hos, rather than fresh-faced teenagers, but I do worship the ground Tyra Banks walks on, so we will persist with the next season of the American version, starting this Tuesday on Fox8).