Published: November 1st 2010October 19th 2010
We spent a few days at uKhahlamba-Drakensburg Park starting at Monks Cowl. It was beautiful walk to Nandi Falls, through farmland covered in wild flowers and then into the forest filled with the sweet smell of ferns and damp undergrowth. The view of the mountains was spectacular. We had timed the walk perfectly. On the way back to our lodge, the heavens opened and it poured with rain.
Our next stop was the small town of Kestel. There was not much going on here, but we stayed in a low key yet fabulous guesthouse. Rain, hail, thunder and lightning stopped us in our tracks. We had hoped to do the amphitheatre walk, one of the most famous hikes in the Drakensburg but the wild weather continued. The weather cleared briefly later in the day so we drove up to Sentinel Peak, the beginning of the amphitheatre walk. It was cold and windy at the top and on a perfect day, the view here would be magnificent. As it was, even covered in cloud and mist, it looked truly spectacular and we were very disappointed that the conditions were not good enough to go out in.
Leaving the Drakensburg we
headed to Kruger National Park via Johannesburg. This is a mining town that grew too fast with people flocking from all over the country looking for work. The central city is edgy and rough, with horrible buildings, a complete opposite of the centre of Cape Town. Violence in the CBD is said to be rife and a no go area at night time - the violence here possibly as a result of the huge disparity between rich and poor rather than race, although it depends who you ask. The city feels as dangerous as the hype around it but there are some really lovely areas and everyone we met was very friendly. Unfortunately the city is surrounded by open mines that have scarred the landscape and blow an awful dust over the city.
It was worth coming here just to visit the Apartheid Museum. This is one of the most compelling, evocative and thoughtful museums that we have visited. Various media enlightened us on this dark period in South Africa's turbulent history. The architecture of the building was magnificent and also reflects the apartheid era; struggle, freedom and reconciliation. For anyone coming to Johannesburg, this museum is a must
The next three days were spent at Kruger National Park, the biggest National Park in South Africa. While eating dinner and having a glass of wine a huge herd of elephants wandered through the river we were overlooking ripping up the long grasses and splashing water everywhere. Fantastic sunsets and watching the wildlife while eating dinner - there is nothing quite like it.
We headed out the next morning at 5.30am to catch the animals while it was still cool. A hyena ran across the road in front of us before scampering into the bushes. There were plenty of giraffe around, about 5 of them crossed the road in front of us, one of the young giraffes rubbing his neck along his father's. Through the trees we watched a fascinating encounter with three lionesses and a herd of buffalo. The lions had captured a young buffalo which they dragged under a tree, he was lying on his back but his legs were still moving. The buffalo herd then rounded up and charged the lions, forcing them away from the young buffalo. The lions circled and danced around the buffalo, trying to approach their dinner but the buffalo
were having none of it, charging at the lions over and over again. We presumed that the baby buffalo escaped as we could not see it under the tree any-more and the lions had run off.
Driving to our next site at Satara, we did not see much. There seemed to be so many sightings but we did not seem as lucky. After a cup of tea back at camp we headed out again and after hours we had not seen anything until we then came across a traffic jam. The traffic had stopped to watch two cheetahs who were lying down. We could not see what people were looking at and then both the cheetahs got up and went for a walk. Both had really swollen bellies, I am not sure if this was from a huge meal that they had just eaten or whether they were pregnant but I expect the former. It looked like a mother and her adolescent cub - they were absolutely beautiful.
After dinner while we were sitting outside having a drink, a honey badger ran up and knocked the rubbish bin over and stole off with some of the contents. I
was so pleased to see one, these vicious little animals eat poisonous snakes and they raid bee hives which often ends badly!
On our way out in the morning we noticed that the honey badgers had knocked over all the rubbish bins in the area and using their sharp claws and ingenuity had removed the lids to scavenge for food. We headed out for a morning game drive and saw a huge herd of buffalo at the river drinking and there were plenty of elephants around. Despite the prolific sightings listed on the sightings board we did not see any predators.
On the way to our next camp at Skukuza, we saw a leopard sitting in the tree. She was gorgeous; trying to sleep, all the cameras clicking kept her restless, she tried repositioning herself and eventually got up and turned around with her back to us. It was magnificent.
Down at the river at the edge of Skukuza, a massive herd of elephants came through, young elephants fighting and playing with each other.
Matt and I decided to head out for another game drive that afternoon, just for a couple of hours on the off
chance that we would see something. Melody and Francis decided to stay behind with a big day in the car the following day and then a long flight. As it would happen, we saw nothing until on the way back where a white rhino was walking alongside the road nibbling at the long grass (this is just what Melody wanted to see - Murphy's law). We then saw a huge eagle on the side of the road carrying a rabbit. When we turned the car around to take a closer look, the eagle dropped the rabbit and flew up into the tree where it watched us. We had hoped that it would fly back to collect the rabbit while we were there but in the end we had to leave and get back before the gates closed.
Kruger is a magnificent park but our experience here was a little disappointing and frustrating, not that it should be, this was the only park where saw the Big 5 all in the same area and there were literally hundreds of sightings of the predators. It's just that we have been spoilt at other parks with animals really close to us. The
difference here was that the park is so much larger with fewer roads and there was plenty of water around so not much was happening at the waterholes. For us it meant that we could go for hours without seeing anything. That said, its all luck of the draw and it was wonderful to see cheetah and leopard again.
Sadly we dropped Melody and Francis off at the airport and for our last two days of our trip (can't believe it is nearly over) we are staying in the colourful township of Soweto.
There are more photos below