t was with great anticipation of the next stage of the BBA V4 South African adventure this morning that I awoke at 3.15am well in advance of the 5am alarm we have set.
It is funny how you think that there is no point going back to sleep when you know full well that the alarm will wake you soon anyway.
5am came around fairly quickly, I think, between snatches of sleep or more likely dozing. Then it was a matter of a shower and preparation for a ride to the bus terminal at the airport about 15 minutes away where our connection to Gomo Gomo Lodge in Klaserie Game Park in Kruger National Park would leave from at 6.45am.
The Safari Club chef had put together sandwiches, fruit and orange juice for us to take and consume as we travelled as we were just a bit too early for the breakfast to be available.
There was a small group of 8 including ourselves to be taken to various drop off points all within a short distance of each other in Kruger and we waited patiently for our driver Brendon to arrive in the van with a
trailer to take all the luggage. He duly arrived and Gretchen gave him the tick as she felt he looked a reliable driver, which was a bit of a relief to the nervous passenger who likes to drive herself .
A couple of American guys, who we found out as the morning went by, were involved in putting art auctions together around the world, took the front passenger seat and the one in front of us by the side exit door.They were to provide a diversion for us as we travelled as they kept Brendon talking.
Loaded up we joined the ever increasing traffic heading towards Johannesburg although we eventually took a change of direction towards the rising sun in the east and the traffic thinned a bit.
Brendon had warned us that for the first couple of hours there wouldn’t be much to see and he was dead right as the landscape was flat and featureless. The road surface however was like much of what we experienced in the south, smooth with wide lanes and a decent shoulder and the dual laned highway separated by a grassy median.
For the first two hours we passed
by numerous power stations in the distance all belching out some horrendous looking pollution in the early morning light. Brendon had noted that on a really cold morning when there had been a hard frost that it was sometimes too difficult to see more than 50 metres or so ahead until the sun came up and warmed the atmosphere to clear the smog sufficiently to drive with some confidence.
Along with the coal fired power stations there were also great piles of ‘leftovers’ from the open cast coal mines that were aplenty alongside the highway putting a real blight on what you could see from the van windows. And to add to all that were the coal trucks with their trailers going full in one direction to dump their load at a power station and empty in the other as they went to pick up their next load. We lost count of the number of power stations after a half dozen as some were close to the highway and others further distance away.
Brendon gave us a break for 20 minutes to stretch our legs and have a drink at a large roadside service centre and that was
our first glimpse of some wild animals in a paddock alongside the service centre
After this we seemed to leave the power stations and coal mines behind and the land became more undulating with some serious size farms with few animals visible from the highway.
We turned off the N412 and headed in a more northerly direction and the terrain became hilly.
What is a bit surprising is the lack of settlements although perhaps there were more out of sight on one of the few side broads than ran off the N4
The next coffee and stretch of the legs stop was in the dusty town of Ohrigstad
Then it was time to really get in and over the mountain range. Much of the developed land in this area is citrus although Brendon mentioned that much of it is for the local South African market as there is intense competition to be able to sell citrus on the world market. We seem to remember a time when South African oranges were sold in NZ but you would be hard pressed now to find anything but American or Australian fruit outside of our season.
along the way since we have turned off the two laned highway to a single lane in each direction there often has been a large slow moving truck in front of us.
Coming down the road just after a view of the Blyde Canyon one of these such trucks was in front with the driver riding his brakes to the point that smoke from the overheating brakes was obvious.
Then a flash of red became visible and Brendon tried to attract the attention of the driver to point out he had a fire which had the potential to blow out a tyre or something far more serious.
We were pleased when Brendon finally got an opportunity to pass with everyone on the left hand side of the van gastrulating to the truck driver that he had a fire problem at the rear. He seemed oblivious to everything and even after we had passed he just kept on driving after us with smoke billowing out behind him.
From our seats in the van we were close enough to hear the two Americans chatting away to Brendon and the varied discussion they had relieved some of the monotony
for us when there wasn’t something passing by of interest.
Eventually after 5 hours we reached the area where the passengers were dropped off in twos and in situation a woman on her own who appeared to be a local by the greeting she got from a man who was waiting in Hoedspruit to pick her up.
We were the 4th
drop off and Brendon took us to the airport where someone from GomoGomo Lodge was going to pick us up and take us 40 minutes on to the lodge. He had said that he telephoned all the lodges to where the passengers were going and so we were a bit surprised no one from the lodge was there to pick us up when we got our luggage out of the trailer.
Brendon assured us he had telephoned GomoGomo as he drove off to deliver his last passenger so all we could do was find shelter under a large spreading tree and wait.
The airport car park was small but it was busy with a plane (ATR) load of people getting themselves picked up by their lodge staff.
Twenty minutes went by and we were
starting to think what do we do if the airport closes down and they want to lock the gated entrance and we were still waiting.
It was here that the mobile came in handy again and Gretchen made the call to the lodge to discover that they had not had a call from anyone to advise we were at the airport but they would send a car straight away.
Time ticked on and another smaller plane arrived whose passengers were all picked up and left for their various lodges.
An hour had now passed and we were thankful for the well leafed tree with spreading branches as it felt like the temperature in the sun was around 30C and there was no cloud cover to be seen in the brilliant blue sky.
We were getting close to telephoning again when an inconspicuous car arrived. At first the driver got out and walked away from where we sat but then a few moments later he returned holding a sign with our names on it.
He apologised profusely and we were on our way to the lodge at last.
It became apparent to us about half
way to the lodge why it had taken him so long to arrive after Gretchen telephoned as we came across a gatehouse which he explained was set up to keep poachers out of Klaserie Private Nature Reserve which is the home for dozens of different private game reserves and GomoGomo was just one of them. Once beyond the gatehouse the speed on the road was strictly 50kph just in case an animal suddenly appeared from bush and walked across the road in front of the vehicle. Apparently there were very substantial fines for killing an animal on the road set by the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve.
GomoGomo has been around for about 30 years but the current lodge buildings are only 10 years old. It is set 3 or 4 km’s off the tar seal road and has 8 accommodation units all capable of taking up to 4 people and then a lounge, dining area and a large outdoor seating area that overlooks a watering hole. Each unit has a wide terrace with comfortable seating and each one also overlooks the watering hole.
Although it was nearly 3pm by the time we arrived there was a late lunch
waiting for us which we were thankful for and then we had just the right amount of time to change for a game drive that would take us through until half an hour before dinner time at 7.30pm.
Initially there were just 4 on the game drive, us and two young women from Singapore, plus Geart as the driver and Dominic as the tracker sitting on a seat perched on the left hand front of the land rover.But a few minutes into the drive and we returned to the lodge to pick up an American couple from Texas and their two teenage girls who had arrived at the lodge as we were starting the drive.
Geart seemed to know the maze of narrow and bumpy dirt roads like the back of his hand as we lurched our way left and right sitting in the middle row of seats in the 3 tiered arrangement on the rear half of the land rover looking for the first animal sighting of the drive.
And first up were a small herd of Cape Buffalo grazing and only occasionally looking our way about 20 metres away from the vehicle. The herd increased
in size as we arrived at a watering hole just before them and Geart parked us in such a way so that we could see the herd arrive and all go down to drink as the sun was setting. Further over in the watering hole was a hippo with just a small part of his head and ears sticking out above the water. It seemed to be happy to stay where is was and Geart told us that they generally only came out of the water at night to feed.
Then with the sun set it was time for a beer and a bite to eat while everyone got to know each other better.
We then drove around for another hour or so with Dominic of the spotlight but didn’t catch any large animals in the spotlight to stop for except a small green chameleon and so it was back to the lodge to freshen up for dinner.
Nothing is ever assured on a game drive, you take what you can see and hope for something different the next time you go out, which for us will be at dawn tomorrow morning.
We ended the day
sitting in a half circle around an open fire called a ‘boma’ and were served a three course dinner which we consumed with more South African wine.
We were ready for sleep by 9.15pm and after all there will be a tap at the door at 5.15am to get us up and about for a coffee before the morning game drive starts at 6am.
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