Elective D16-18 - 9th-11th March

Published: March 13th 2014
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So after our long long week of theatre lists, 26hr on calls and various illnesses and ailments we were done...finally a couple of days off to explore South Africa.

On Alan's recommendation we were going to head to the Pilanesberg National Park rather than Kruger (a 2.5 hour drive rather than 9!) which was the 3rd largest game park in South Africa and around 50,000sq.km and still had the spread of a Big 5 animals we were hoping to see. On a budget and hoping to catch a glimpse of bear-grills-esque living we packed tent, chairs, sleeping bags and monopoly deal into our premier game ranging vehicle (the Atos!!) and set off for the Pilanesberg. We managed to avoid taking a table, lighting system, BBQ grill and kitchen sink (!) despite Alan's best efforts to set us up for some premier glamping! For this one we were packing light! (a rarity for me I'm sure many of you will appreciate!)

Greeting us en route was the mother of all rain storms, thunder and lightening in tow...leading to some great go-pro footage but some hairy driving. With our medieval sat-nav loosing signal after about 30 minutes we reverted to some (semi) old school map reading on Eds iPhone. After a few three point turns and some hairy moments driving past underground mob clubs in the rural South African equivalent of Sicily we finally made it...the only campers to stay in the Bakgatla game ranging resort!! With darkness an inevitability we pulled up next to a picnic bench and pitched tent. The ground was dry, the air was clear and we (exhausted) sat down for a beer next to our braii...CRACK...lightening lit up the sky!! Let's hope Alan's tent was waterproof...

Waking up the next morning in what can only be described as a pond with some floating sleeping bags in it we rather regretted taking the budget option!! But chins up and away we grabbed whatever semi-dry safari clothes we had left and headed for the 6am gate opening. Seemed like a lie in compared to our Bara starts!! Instantly we knew this was going to be a little different to the lion and rhino park. The terrain was tough and tricky to navigate, the ground was waterlogged and slippery and signs on every side reminded us that leaving the vehicle at any point of our trip was extremely dangerous...this was big 5 country!! Was the Atos (with its semi-flat, tread-worm tyres) up to the challenge?!! Of course it was!!

Driving along of the paths (some tarmacked, some far the opposite!) we peered out of our windows desperate for our first sightings...and what greeted us around the first bend...a friendly giraffe in the middle of the bush grazing on a nearby tree!! That was my favourite done already! Spotting a tour guides 4x4 turning a corner ahead we set off in pursuit. We knew the tour guides would communicate via radio to pick up any sightings of big 5 animals (being the 5 most dangerous to hunt: Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Buffalo, Elephant). We followed about 1km in tow, just in case our keen eyes failed us! And what a morning!! Rhino, giraffe, elephant, zebra, hippo, buffalo, jackals...the list went on and on. And being summertime there were flocks of infants of each, learning their way around the bush and running and playing under the stern gaze of their parents!! Proper treat to see them in their natural habitats living, walking and interacting between one another.

Was that
Our first spotOur first spotOur first spot

A giraffe by the roadside
A LION?!! No just a rock...

Was that A LION?!!! No just a tree...

Ooo was that one?!!! No just another bloody rock!!

A game quickly emerged..."tree" and "rock" were banned, any false claim ("I think I saw") would warrant a penalty and the R word (the wet one that had ruined our sleep the night before) and the P word (the one that would have left our rental Atos stranded in predator country) brought the biggest fines of them all!! Points were tallied for recollection during the evenings frivolities.

After a late breakfast we went for another explore. Finally the sun was shining and we hung out the windows of the Atos - binoculars around neck, circle of life blaring and camera in hand, at last feeling like proper safari rangers!! Fortunately we'd manage to avoid the cheesy game ranger jackets and hats (although we tried them on of course!!). The sun was strong and the day was warm...but the animals were napping!! Whilst the scenery was beautiful and we still had some fantastic spots of zebra, giraffe, kudu, terrapins and turtles (plus more impala than we thought could possibly exist

Thankfully we didn't have to rely on our map reading entirely!
in Africa) the big 5 (3 down and the 2 big cats still to go) were evading us for the afternoon. With tired eyes (having done over 10hours of driving and binocular-ing!) we popped back to our tent to check the damage. Fortunately the afternoon of sun had solved most our problems and we were able to have a fairly damp-free doze before our evening drive.

With gates closing at 6:30 we reinterred the park with blazing sunshine at 5:30. 45 minutes to get a few good spots...

Down a 4x4 off-road track in the east side of the park we stopped. What was this...a whole herd of elephant were in the bush next to us...too many to count!! Mother crosses first, literally a metre from our car, with 4 babies in tow!!! Dad grumbled along behind us looking at us inquisitively...please don't flip the car!!!! More and more used the crossing, all the time we watched in awe. Eventually they were done and gone, leaving only a few squashed trees and scrub bushes in their wake...what an experience!! The Atos remained (thankfully) without a (tusk-related) scratch!!

Driving on again we
Our premier 2x4 safari vehicle!Our premier 2x4 safari vehicle!Our premier 2x4 safari vehicle!

Is there anything the ATOS can't take on?
heard a grumble...either I was hungry or the weather gods were winding up for another rain storm... Worried about even the Atos coping in what would make a British flash flood look like a popped paddling pool (sorry Somerset!!) we turned to head for the exit with some haste.

ED WATCH OUT!!!! ***screechh!!*** A 2-tonne rhino and it's two children were crossing the road!!!! Now that would have been difficult to explain to the rental company!! Just metres away from our car these magnificent creatures sought refuge from the storm under a low-hanging tree. The rain turned out to be a blessing in disguise (a heavy disguise - moustache, glasses and all!!). The park was completely different in rainscape, with animals (even those of different species) huddling together to stay warm and arranging themselves in strict formations to maximise use of shelter...impressive stuff.

Hating the idea of heading back to a flooded tent (would the gaffa-tape hold?!!) we drove to the resort restaurant for dinner. Impala cutlets were on the menu! Despite some severely below-par microwaved entrees and a waiter who forgot our order three or four times we had a lovely evening gazing out at the storm and enjoying a moments breather from the hectic Bara lifestyle. Nothing could spoil our good mood...and to our delight the tent had survived the second storm! With beers and monopoly deal to keep us company we played away the evening and slept like babies on our freshly dried sleeping bags.

The next morning, despite a predictably difficult start, we emerged into the park early for Day 2 of safari. Unfortunately the weather wasn't really with us (gloomy and rain again!) and our hopes of seeing big cats were low. Nevermind! We had a great morning of hippo sightings (and not just the American tourists!), croc searching, lizard stalking and turtle feeding. Resigned to having had our only lion spots of the trip in the lion park the previous weekend we turned to our favourite lunch spot for a bite to eat.

But what to do with the afternoon? With the skies looking a little kinder and Eds (great) suggestion of visiting South Africa's most prolific casino/waterpark/resort we checked out and headed west to Sun City. And what a place!! This lost-Mayan-world themed super-hotel was cheesy,tacky and brilliant all in equal measure. With the sun rolling high in the sapphire sky (cheeky lion king reference 😉) we smashed on our boardies and headed for the waterpark. Wave pools (with good going 10ft waves!!), water slides and chutes, lazy river and piña coladas...what a perfect way to revive prior to the heavy on call fortnight ahead!

With sun-kissed skin, a chlorine taste in our mouths and a weary sense of achievement we set off for the journey home (in...you guessed it...another colossal rain storm..."never had weather like it before they say"...seems we brought over the stout welsh climate!).

The Atos had survived unimaginably tough terrain with but a few scratches, we'd tried our hands at game ranging and narrowly avoided an RVA (rhino-vehicle-accident!!) and we had piña-coladas at the top of South Africa's biggest Mayan-themed water slide!! Fantastic weekend break for the trauma trio!! Although, if I have to listen to "can you feel the love tonight once more" today I think I'm going to explode...

Additional photos below
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Sun CitySun City
Sun City

Alan's heaven and hell!

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