Close encounters - South Africa - March 2014 (Part II)

Published: July 21st 2015
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This is the second entry of our multiple excursions to the motherland. Honestly this one is more about the pictures because I think we got some awesome pictures on this trip.

When people think South Africa they usually think wild animals, big game parks, hunting, etc. (you get the picture). Having lived in South Africa for 18 straight years I have to confess that I have never gone on a safari. It's the case of - well it is right here in my backyard so why would we?

We had to go back for my brother's wedding and they did not really have any honeymoon plans so we invited them along on another one of our crazy excursions. The wedding was on a farm right outside Kimberley with just some very close family and friends with a very rustic setting. The food was a "braai", how we like it, and the sunset and surrounding wildlife made for a pretty memorable evening. The next day we got everything in order and I started booking our tour/ mini-honeymoon.

First destination was MADIKWE - a private game reserve in the northern parts of South Africa right on the border with Botswana.
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Every single time on our first day there are clouds and sunrays peeking through. Always beautiful.
But to get there it is a little bit of a drive so we split it up and overnighted in Mafikeng at Didi's Bed and Breakfast. Absolutely no reason for you to spend any time in Mafikeng and also no reason to stay at Didi's. Just not a very welcoming room and just overall not the greatest place, but it was clean, gave us a place to rest our heads and did serve a purpose (and we did book 5 hours before getting there) so I guess I can't complain too much. I generally don't complain about accommodation/ rooms/ hotels unless it was just completely dirty/ bad service, etc.

The next day we were on our way to Madikwe with about a 2 hour drive left. We found the turn-off and were welcomed at the gate. We drove about 5 miles on a dirt road until we got to a camp where they keep your vehicle and come and pick you up and pamper you the rest of the way. Even on our drive to the little camp where we parked our vehicles we saw many zebras, elephants, and plenty other creatures. There are several lodges within the reserve
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This is how we navigate. Google maps before we take off and then hope for the best
and they are all pretty expensive and you have to STAY IN A PRIVATE LODGE. This was almost one of the factors that made us not go, but at the end of the day we decided that it would be worth it. We went for the cheapest option which also turns out to be the most rustic and romantic I would say - Mosetlha Lodge Bush Camp and Eco Lodge.

We arrived and ... for starters there is no electricity so everything is done by gas-lamp. This is how my dad's farm was in the days when we went there for the weekends so it was great to show the wives how we grew up as jids when we went to the farm. The main area is powered by a generator at night to provide some light and keep things cool, but other than that everything is done by gas-lamp. The huts you stay in are very basic and open air. There is no running water. You have to heat up your own water for a shower through a "donkey" which gives it that extra special feel. You put water in the one side, it runs through the "donkey"
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Last breakfast as a free man
with a big fire underneath it and it comes out piping hot on the other side. You take your bucket, walk to the "shower" with the entire path lit by lanterns, you hoist the bucket through a pulley, attach a shower head on the bottom and you have about 5 minutes to soap and wash. The walkway to the showers/ toilets only has a mesh wire around it and we were warned to try and not go to the bathroom at night because the camp was not really protected so you could potentially encounter an elephant, lion, buffalo, etc. on your way to the bathroom. Sweet!!!

Drives are done twice a day so we rested up a little bit and then went on our drive - LOOKING FOR LIONS IN MADIKWE. Our guide was Justice - or as he goes by "Just Ice". Immediately we saw all kinds of game - deer, zebra, birds, warthogs, and it didn't take us long to find a herd of elephants. The lions were nowhere to be found. We saw this herd of elephants and we followed them for a couple minutes when our guide took off and drove away. We were kind
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Wedding on a farm (not ours)
of perplexed since this was a pack of elephants after all - why leave? This is why we are here. No? He put our minds at ease and went his merry may. All of a sudden after taking a couple turns we are standing in front of this beautiful little waterhole with red dirt/ sand surrounding it and the African storm clouds brewing in the background. And there we sat. It was pretty, but really? Actually it was really, really pretty - but again I am here to see animals. We did not want to be rude and ask what the hell is going on so we just sat. About 15 minutes later out of the corner of our eyes we saw some movement - something really big moving. A herd moving. A herd of elephants moving. The same herd we saw 15 minutes ago. It was time for a bath and our guide somehow knew it. Once they saw the water there was no stopping. They rushed and there was a splish and a splash as they all went plunging in like a bunch of kids exited to be at the swimming pool on a hot day - babies,
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Awaiting the bride - tensely! She was only a couple minutes late!
mamas and dads. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. What an experience. The little ones were rolling around in the water. At times it looked like they were almost drowning and yelling for help because they could not get up again - so it seemed. And then just like that they got up and left. It probably lasted all of 10 minutes. One of the coolest things we have seen. What an experience.

We drove around more, saw some buffalo and lots more elephants. At sunset we stopped and had some drinks and snacks and experienced an awesome hazy African sunset over the bushveld. We continued driving for a little more during the darkness as "Just Ice" was following some leopard tracks, but we were unsuccessful in tracking him down. We made it back to camp and were treated to dinner while talking to the rest of the people about adventures and stories. This is how it should be - no cell phones so people have to talk and everyone here shares the same passions as us so there are some fascinating stories being shared. Afterwards there really is nothing else to do so we just sat at the fire until
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Pretending like I lost the rings
it died out and went to bed - tomorrow will be another full day of finding that elusive lion.

We got up very early, got blankets for our ride and set out at the crack of dawn. Giraffes, birds, more elephants, foxes, lots of deer and more beautiful landscapes were on the menu today. It took driving around for a while until we saw another jeep stopped in the road. And there they were. Two cousins (lions) stalking something. They were low to the ground, stalking something, carefully moving forward, sideways, looking up, crawling more... And then just as quickly they were just running around, sitting at the waterhole drinking and playing around like a bunch of adolescent teens. We were really hoping for "a kill". We followed them around for quite a while as they were playing around. What an encounter. A couple times they ran right by the jeep - we could reach out and touch them if we wanted (we were advised not to as you could potentially lose a limb or more). We moved on back to the waterhole we were at the day before. At first we did not see anything until "Just-Ice" went
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around a mound of sand and there were two massive male lions just lying in the sun. We stopped right by them. They could not be bothered less by our presence. They just laid there - eyes closed, sometimes opening them, yawning here and there. We stayed there for quite a while. Just to sit there watching these magnificent kings of the jungle hanging out was quite the experience.

We did a couple more rounds and tried to find more animals, but it was time to head out as this was only a 24 hour stay. What an experience. I would highly recommend it. I would recommend Mosethla for the experience. There are more expensive lodges where you will be pampered more and that will be more comfortable, but I feel like this gives you the true African experience. Getting from Madikwe to our next destination - GREATER KRUGER PARK AREA - is quiet the trek. We broke it up a little bit. First destination was Polokwane (former Pietersburg). Pretty big city and once again a guest house was just easier, cheaper and better than finding a hotel. La Talia Guest House was really awesome and we really appreciated
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Wedding bells!!
everything they did for us. Clean, nice, and modern rooms with a little kitchen if you wanted to make your own food. On this trip our dining options were somewhat limited as we always pulled into towns a little later on. We usually either did Wimpy (local little sandwich/ burger chain with decent food and good breakfast), Steers (a good burger chain), Nandos (local chicken chain), Spar (local supermarket chain), Spur (local steakhouse chain), and Mugg and Bean (local coffee shop chain starting to serve more and more food). All are pretty decent options.

Next morning we headed out and were able to complete one of the drives in our book. From POLOKWANE TO TZANEEN you pretty much follow the OLIFANTS RIVER. A pretty drive through mountains and valleys. Towards the end you will see a dam close to Tzaneen where you can see BIRDS AT THE DAM at certain times of the year. This is part of the KLASERIE VALLEY. A nice drive.

Just outside Tzaneen we made a quick detour (actually backtracking in the opposite direction for a couple kilometers) to GETTING OUT OF YOUR TREE AT THE WORLD'S SMALLEST PUB. By MODJADJISKLOOF there is a
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More rusticness!
SUNLAND BOABAB TREE (WORLD'S OLDEST BOABAB), but apparently also one of the largest. It was a little bit out of the way and there is truly nothing to do there beside sitting under the tree, buy a couple cold drinks and just take in the enormity of this tree (also climb it if you want) - which is also nice to do at times. One of those things you do and afterwards sort of glad you did because it's just neat, relaxing, and one of those off the beaten path things. Inside it is hollow so they built a bar in it. We went inside and pretended like we were drinking. Pretty cool.

It was time to get going again for our final destination - KRUGER NATIONAL PARK - the world famous park that stretches for miles and miles with all the wildlife your heart desires. I read a lot about MARLOTH PARK and how nice it is since it is right on the river opposite the southern side of Kruger Park and you are able to see a lot of animals from there as they come and drink in the morning/ evening. It is really close to the
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Only in South Africa!
Mozambique border and it was quite the trek to get there. It's a big "resort" where people rent out their private houses for pretty cheap and within the resort are kudus, zebras, giraffes, etc. They walk up to you when they see you expecting food so it is really, really cool just seeing these guys around all the time. Like a big zoo without the fences. A couple of them even came "knocking" in the mornings wanting to be fed. We rented a house known as "Kruger Cottages". Very basic with lots of room to sleep. Not modern by any means, but again it served a need. It has a fridge, shower, and area where you can make food. Probably won't go back to that specific house again, but again it served a need and a lot of time that is all we want. In the mornings we went for walks along the fence facing the river and did see some animals - mostly river animals such as hippos and crocs.

Getting to the Kruger gates is a little bit of a drive. There are 2 gates somewhat close to Marloth Park. We paid the small fee and off
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Coetzee boys
we went. We entered at one of the southern gates and immediately were greeted by GRASSLANDS, BIRDS, ELEPHANTS, and all kinds of deer. Right as we crossed the river into the park we saw a huge crocodile just lying there - what a way to start our journey. At some point we stopped as some people saw cheetahs, but we never saw them as they apparently stayed under the grass as we got there. As in any other park the easiest thing is just to see where other people are stopped and go there, because that is where the action is, but it is also cool to find the animals on your own. We got to a waterhole and saw some BUFFALO. We also saw many elephants and they get really, really close to you. They don't particularly pay too much attention to you, but they also know where you are. They also pretty much go wherever they want to so just make sure you are not in the way when they decide to cross the road. Happened a couple times to us where we just moved out of the way. There are many streams running through the park and
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A cowboy boot kinda wedding
usually at these streams you can see birds and plenty of other wildlife.

In the 3 - 4 hours that we were there we obviously only caught a glimpse of what this tremendous park has to offer. Please go - this is so worth it. We really did not see any carnivores so that was a little bit of a disappointment. Plenty of elephants, deer, warthogs and birds. At one section there were many vultures just hanging out. Pretty cool to see these guys too even though they are pretty ugly. We were not too disappointed about the lack of lions as we saw plenty of them in Madikwe. We were after the RHINOCEROS. These elusive animals are hunted for their horns and some of these sub-species are getting pretty close to extinction. Can't really blame them for not just standing there in the wide-open for everyone to see. And then we saw one. Just lazying around at his own pace. He was behind bushes and trees the whole time so did not get the clearest view, but it was better than nothing.

And just like that our journey came to an end. It was time to get
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Losing the sun behind the "koppie"
out. They are pretty strict about people having to be out of the park at exactly 6. We timed it and had the route mapped out. 15 kilometers in 25 minutes. Doesn't sound like too much of a problem, but these roads are all dirt, winding and with it being dusk there were a lot of creatures crossing at the most inopportune times. We were on the road and there was a fairly decent straight stretch and all we could see was what looked like a rock in the middle of the road. I started slowing down and then we saw 2 "rocks". Well it turned out to be a baby rhino just lying in the middle of the road. And right behind him/her was the mama and she was not gonna move. There was no way around. I slowly pulled up flashing the lights and honking hoping this would scare them off - no movement. Nothing. Solid as a rock and they were not moving. So we starting to inch closer and closer hoping for the best and the next thing you know Nikkie is screaming like crazy to look left. Out of the corner of my eye all
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Wedding decorations
I saw was something big coming closer at a furious pace. Daddy rhino was in the bushes to our left and we did not even think to look for him or notice him for that matter. He obviously was being protective of his family and was charging like crazy. I hit the car in reverse and backed-up as fast as I could. My heart was racing. He kind of kept coming after us. Wow. Wow. Wow. What an experience. Close call but we were ok. There was no way we were gonna make it out on this road. There was an alternative, but this involved quite a detour and no way for us to make the gate at 6. We took off and in the 20 kilometers to the gate saw more animals than we did the entire 4 hours. It was as if there is this internal clock going off inside them where they all know "k - humans are gone. Let's party". Just unfortunate that these humans were not gone yet. At every corner and every turn we encountered an animal. Elephants were everywhere. Deer running across the road. Small mammals crossing the road and me having to
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More wedding decorations
break to avoid running them over. We made it to the gate 20 minutes too late and got quite the working over from the guard. He was somehow quite convinced that we were "poachers" even after we showed him the pictures of the rhino smack in he middle of the road. He made us all get out of the car and made some calls. Probably just more scare tactics on his side. Finally after about 30 minutes we were free to go. What an experience. What an adventure. Africa at its finest.

We made it home and had a final braai before Nikkie and I had to head home. It's always say to say goodbye to home. Always sad to say goodbye to family. But we had a good trip full of adventures and were able to provide the kids with somewhat of a honeymoon. Time to say goodbye. In the Johannesburg airport Jackson Republic is a pretty decent place to sit and have a drink sandwich and watch the airplanes take off. We got a steak panini and a flamed chicken barbie with a couple beers.

- Kruger is a must. This is just one of
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Unexpected guest!
those must do things when in South Africa

- we had a couple experiences with the B&B's and the private house where they were not the greatest. When on vacation you want to be comfortable and have some form of luxury and some of the places we stayed at was not like this. Once again these places were clean and provided a place to rest at night.

- for Kruger my advice would be to stay on the western side of the park. Plenty of small towns around there where you can also rent houses and gives you a lot more options once you go into the park.
- we had a bigger crowed so it was cheaper for us to rent a house. South Africa can get pricey with hotel rooms as they generally charge per person and not per room so I have found it is cheaper and most of the time better to rent private homes
- wherever you drive in the country always look to the side of the road. There are many many creatures just hanging out, but they are pretty good at hiding and blending in so it takes
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New member to the family
some careful spotting at times

Well - that is it again for my country. We were able to complete 4 things in our books including looking for lions in Madikwe, getting out of your tree at the world's smallest pub, Olifants River and the greater Kruger Park area. So 253 down and 5,528 to go.

Til next time from an African who went on a safari for the first time

Additional photos below
Photos: 163, Displayed: 35


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Sunflowers on the roadtrip!
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First there is this poster...

22nd July 2015

Lions and elephants and crocodiles--wow!
Love this close up of the lion--what an experience. How great that you got your bro and his wife out for a honeymoon, and had a magical time yourselves. Great adventures!
23rd July 2015

As you were saying
Yeh...good point...gotta agree!

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