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Published: April 20th 2012
Sat, 14 August – Johannesburg
Flight was eventful – 4 hours flying close to Antarctica, 6 hours of turbulence, 22 hours of daylight, awake for 23 hours and 33 hours of Sabbath.
Unfortunately our hire car was too small so we had to upgrade, which will cost a small fortune. Mio maps took us through suburbia for what seemed like an eternity. Trying to navigate manually was impossible as the road signage is atrocious. There are few street signs and when I stopped to ask people for directions, the black people didn’t know how to get to the white area where our B&B was located. The segregation between the classes and suburbs is quite confronting at first.
Found our b&b, which was beautiful. Had dinner nearby at a trendy little cocktail bar/restaurant. We had sweet potato rosti for about $12, which was really good. Sun, 15 Aug – Madikwe Private Game Reserve
We slept for 10 hours and awoke to a stunning sunny day. The air was cool and crisp and the breakfast was delightful. We had chefs to cook omelettes, French toast and other things whilst Dwayne indulged in fig conserve on yummy bread.
After stopping at Woolworths for some essential driving supplies, it was great to get out of the city and head north-west from Johannesburg. The roads are great for the most part, and the speed limit is 120 most of the way on similar roads to Australia (think New England highway) but the traffic is generally moving much quicker than that and we sat on about 140-150 most of the time. No police anywhere. My favourite thing is when you’re coming to overtake someone, they move into the emergency lane and you continue past them at your blistering speed without moving a metre. Very thoughtful!
We stopped for a quick lunch at a place called Zeerust and got to Madikwe about 3pm. Madikwe Safari Lodge is about a 45 minute drive from the park entrance. The private game reserve is 96,000 hectares of thorny thickets and open grasslands. As we drove towards the lodge, we saw baboons, zebra, a klipspringer and a kudu (types of antelope). Turning off the main track we stopped dead in our tracks as two gorgeous giraffes stood only metres from the side of the road. They were stunning.
An oncoming, open air safari vehicle
turned out to be the afternoon game drive, which had just departed, and the guide asked if we’d like to join them. We said yes so he called our lodge and organised for someone to meet us at check in and then courier us back to the safari. After a hasty check in, we were on our way to meet the group. His name is Greg and he will be our guide for all 6 of our drives.
There are actually 40 people staying at the lodge, but it’s been set out in such a way that you don’t really know there are any more than the small group of people you go driving with.
We met Greg and the group out on one of the “main” roads through the park, got in the land cruiser and while we were making introductions and chatting to Greg a couple of giraffes floated majestically across the road about a hundred metres away behind him as he was talking – it was a really magical moment. Next we found a male white rhino standing lonely at a watering hole. They’re not very aggressive so Greg drove up nice and close. The
rhino was nonplussed and after staring at each other for 10 minutes, he won and we moved on. We saw springboks, impala and warthog (hakuna matata), but the highlight came when Greg found 2 large male lions sleeping in the shade of a small tree. As we were watching, a jackal came up and, noticing either us or the lions, made himself scarce.
There was no action with the kitty cats and being so close to sunset, we continued another 5 minutes down the road to a clearing where we stopped for sun downer drinks – 5 star style! Greg set up the table with wine, spirits, soft drinks, dried cranberries, biltong (jerky) and dried flavoured corn kernels. We watched the sunset and then headed back for the lions. It was amazing how rapidly the temperature dropped from 26C whilst the sun was up, to quite a chill after sunset.
Our timing was impeccable. They were yawning and starting to rouse when suddenly the roaring began in unison. Deep, guttural booms echoed through the night as we sat metres away. It was awesome and a good note to finish the drive on.
At this point we should
say something about our accommodation, Madikwe Safari Lodge. It’s a 5 star lodge and as soon as you arrive your expectations are well and truly justified. We were met with a warm moist towel and welcome drink. The main lodge is open air with the bures scattered in a line across the hillside. The bures are large and superb, decadent in every way. The entire front has doors that open onto a sweeping timber deck, with views of the park, our own private plunge pool, an outdoor shower and the biggest bed we’ve ever seen. There is no TV and no radio. The kitchen is open at your request and if you leave your dirty laundry on the bed, you’ll come back to find it washed and folded. Even the mini bar is complimentary! Everything is included and we lack for nothing. It’s pure luxury.
The camp is divided into north, east and west sections. We’re in north camp, which comprises of 4 bures (8 people max) and 10 staff. It’s child-free and a lot smaller and more intimate than the other two. There is a boardwalk connecting them all so you can be as social or as isolated
as you want.
Dinner was a 4-course affair with lentil bahji’s, spicy Moroccan chickpea soup, choice of impala or fish and for dessert, poached pear in vanilla sauce. Dwayne had the impala and thought it was tasty, whilst I wish I’d asked for seconds of the soup. We came back to our room to find the electric blankets on, the sheets turned down, the curtains closed and the mood set for sleep. Monday, 16 Aug – Madikwe
We were both awake a while before the scheduled 6am wakeup call – just enough time for a quick shower and get rugged up for our 6:30am game drive, grabbing a coffee and a rusk as we got on the truck.
Our party of 8 had a request for elephants, so we headed north in search of them. Unfortunately none of the animals, except impala, were showing their faces in the chilly morning. Eventually the driver took us to a watering hole to see hippo. Luckily there was a family of 5 lazing in the water so we watched them for a good while. They were big mamas!
On the way home, Greg stopped at a ridge and
told us to look for leopards sunning themselves on rocks. Whilst we were all looking up, he turned a corner and hey presto – there was breakfast set up in the middle of nowhere. Two long trestle tables with juice, muesli, yoghurt, freshly baked bread, fruit skewers and camp staff cooking on two bbq’s. It was a wonderful buffet breakfast.
Afterwards we came back to our lodge and enjoyed our deck and sun chairs during the heat of the day, as well as dining on a 2 course lunch. It’s amazing that there are more staff here than guests.
The afternoon drive came again at 3.30pm and the request was still elephants so we started west. A couple of minutes down the road we turn the corner and come face-to-face with a big bull-elephant. He’s completely nonplussed and continues walking down the path, oblivious to our presence. We watch him for a few minutes but after another truck comes at him from the other direction he got a bit agitated and chased us off. Nobody argues with a 6-tonne elephant.
A little further on we came across a herd of elephants in the thickets and we sat
and watched them for several minutes. The road was narrow, being wedged between walls of thickets on both sides, and elephants grazing both beside and behind us. As we had an escape plan (forward), Greg was happy with our unusually close proximity. Right at that moment, a baby elephant came running around the bend and along the road in front of us. He stopped, looked at us and then sprinted into the bush, trumpeting as he went. Greg felt we’d better move forward as the herd was starting to get agitated at the youngster’s cry. And then something happened that we weren’t expecting.
The mother comes around the bend, the group now grunting all around us, and starts charging towards us. Greg started reversing but she was coming quicker than we were moving. Our hearts were racing as we decided to stand our ground. She was a younger female and Greg made a calculated decision that she was bluffing. He was right. At 15-20m she veered into the bush after the calf and we hightailed it outta there!
On the way home we were stopped by two giraffe, grazing at dusk. One of them was quite reluctant to
move and we sat for 15 minutes whilst he stood on the track, eating to his heart’s content. After this time, Greg started the car and moved close enough to him that he walked down the road whilst we followed, eventually moving to the right so we could pass. They are such graceful animals.
We arrived home to warm towels, a welcome drink and a lovely meal. We retired to our room and fell asleep to the dance of the open fire. Tuesday, 17 August 2010 – Madikwe
Another cool morning with perfect blue skies. After a juice and Anzac biscuit slice we headed out on our morning game drive, following reports we’d had of a male lion chasing zebra. We tracked the lion’s movement from a distance by following the soft alarm calls of the herds of impala but couldn’t actually catch a glimpse of him. All of a sudden a roar shattered the peace of the morning sending chills down our spine, but the lion decided to relax and rest in an area we couldn’t get to so we gave up and left to try our luck with different game. Luckily a few minutes later
we came across another male lion sitting in the long grass and drove to within about 7-8 metres of where he rested.
Leaving the lion to his repose, we headed up a hill to a viewpoint for out morning hot chocolate (with Amarula) and cookies. On the way up we passed a herd of at least 13 elephants feeding in the trees a little way from the track across a small gully. When we finally reached the top of the hill the vista was amazing, with views of almost the entire park.
We retired to the lodge for an outdoor shower, some chill time on the deck and a wonderful lunch.
In the afternoon, Greg decided we would drive south to a watering hole down that way. There had been a leopard sighting the previous night so we were keen to see if he would visit the waterhole again. As we arrived at the dam, our mouths gaped in oohs and aahs. The landscape was open range with herds of zebra, giraffe, impala and wildebeest all grazing together. Finally – the African safari experience we’d been hoping for. Animals every way we looked.
It was a
beautiful, grassy plain with the damn on the left and the mountains along the southern boundary forming a majestic backdrop in the approaching sunset. We were so close to everything. You could almost touch the giraffe. The zebras and impala got a bit bored and they wandered off pretty soon after we arrived, and the dark male giraffe that had been flirting with one of the girls (and being rejected) decided to chase away a jackal. We retreated to a safer area for sun downer drinks, and shared the final moments of daylight with the wildebeest. Dwayne especially liked the mouse-sized bats that were flitting above our heads. They looked so small.
A white rhino decided to join us after we were back in the truck, but he was more interested in staring us out then doing anything interesting, so we started back for camp. Unfortunately no leopard, but Greg did spot a chameleon in a tree, in the dark, 20m away whilst driving at 30km/h. There’s a reason he’s the trainer and mentor to the other guides.
Dinner was an outdoor BBQ with tables set up under the stars, encircled by several fires to keep us warm
and safe. Crisp white linen lifted the occasion from casual to semi-formal. It was a wonderful meal and conversation. Greg said he’s never done laundry in his life, and that was something I was very jealous of. He was shocked that we spend every Sunday doing it! It’s hard to comprehend life with a servant (or life without if you’re South African). And just when we didn’t think it could get any better, we returned to our room to find it littered with tea light candles in the shape of a heart, a bath filled with bubbles and two glasses and champagne waiting for us. The card said “Happy 10th
wedding anniversary”. Unbelievably sweet!! Wednesday, 18 August – Dullstroom
Our final morning arrived all too quickly, and we were soon on the track with Greg. Since there was only Dwayne and I, Greg said we’d do a walk instead of the normal drive. We drove 15 minutes away from the lodge and then left the vehicle on our tramp. Greg had already said that Madikwe policy prohibited him from tracking dangerous game with visitors, so we weren’t expecting any great encounters.
We wandered through various landscapes, stopping
every now and then to learn something new that Greg pointed out. He took us to a shepherd tree, which has branches that are thick and twisted like super fuzzy hair, and is a favourite with leopards because of their density. As we approached, he picked his rifle up and swung at something hanging above us. Nine foot up was a hoof! Closer inspection also revealed the skeleton of a head and horns of a male impala killed approx. a year ago.
Further on we spotted movement and stood still to see what it was. Three warthogs. They don’t have very good eyesight and one of them was quite curious to investigate what we were. He would walk towards us, stop and smell the air, and then advance another couple of steps. All the while keeping his eyes on us, trying to figure out what we were. He came to within 10m of where we were, and I’m sure he would have come almost to our legs had Greg’s sister not changed her balance and made a noise. This scared him and he darted away to safety, before turning around and beginning the whole advancement again. We watched for
about 10 minutes before we finally made a move and the warthogs continued in a different direction.
We returned to the lodge, packed our bags and had breakfast before saying our goodbyes. The drive out was pretty uneventful until we got to the south watering hole that we had been at the previous evening. As we approached, there were zebras, wildebeest, kudu, impala and giraffe wandering across the road. We even had to stop so they could cross. They looked at us as we passed and with my window down taking photos, I could have easily touched them. Such a fantastic memory to depart on. Last but not least, just before leaving the park we came across a group of 5 White Rhinos resting beside the road. We’d seen 1 or 2 in the past, but seeing 5 altogether was a new experience.
Next stop was the De Wildt Cheetah Reserve in Pretoria. We arrived at 2pm only to discover that it’s mandatory to join a tour and the last tour had left at 1.30pm. We turned around, greatly disappointed, and continued to our next destination, Dullstroom. I had chosen this bland sounding location due to its close
proximity to Blyde River Canyon. Turns out it’s quite a cute little town and our 1 bdrm apartment was very reasonable for $80 a night. Certainly not anything close to Madikwe, but a needed soft entry back to reality. Thursday, 19 August – Olifants Camp, Kruger NP
The owner of our apartment suggested we drive across the Long Tom Pass to Sabie, then up the Blyde River Canyon to our Kruger gate at Phalaborwa.
The drive through the pass was windy, steep and high (2200m). It reminded us a little of the Icefields Parkway in Canada, minus the sharp snow-capped mountains. The unfortunate thing about coming to SA during winter is that everyone does burn offs, and today was no exception. The valley and views were shrouded in smokey haze and so the views were not as spectacular as they would be if one were to drive it in Oct/Nov when burning season is over.
We stopped at two viewpoints called The Pinnacle and God’s Window, which had amazing views of the valley below. However the highlight of the drive was Bourke’s Potholes and the Canyon itself. The upper river falls over several terraced waterfalls, before
tumbling into sinkholes in the narrow canyon and joining the lower river. There’s very little security in the way of barriers so you can rock hop on the upper river and terraces, before walking on the bridges over the narrow canyon and lower river, 20m below. It reminded me of something you’d see in the Kimberley - red dirt, narrow canyons and terraced pools that you can swim in.
Continuing on, we sped to the Phalaborwa gate. At one point a baboon and it’s baby crossed the road up ahead of us, reminding us that we’re in Africa.
We arrived at the gate and entered Kruger. What a shock to have a limit of 50kph! As we had 82km to travel, it was a very slow trip. We did see an ostrich and lots of impala, but that was it. Our hut in Olifants Camp is simple but clean. It’s round, like a yurt. We have a communal kitchen but at least we have our own ensuite, which I’d rather have. Friday, 20 August – Olifants Camp, Kruger NP
The problem with staying in a public camp is that there are lots of people,
which means noise. We were woken at 6am by our neighbours who decided that they were departing as soon as the gates opened. We reluctantly arose, showered, ate and packed our lunch. At 7.15am we were on the road.
Kruger is more 'manicured' than Madikwe, if you can imagine bush to be manicured. Madikwe was very remote, with landscapes of red desert and harsh surroundings. Kruger bush has more shape to it, with more space and less thickets. There is greater variety of landscapes in Kruger, and I guess that is to be expected of an established park (Madikwe was only formed in 1991 so is still in transformation mode). Madikwe was rough and beautiful, Kruger is orderly and beautiful.
As we puttered along at 20kph, we saw impala and a new type of antelope, the waterbuck, grazing. Along Olifants River we spotted a family of hippos having their morning dip. A little further on we saw zebra and giraffe, so we stopped and watched them for a little while. Just before lunch we spotted yet another type of antelope, the Duiker.
We turned off the road to a viewpoint over a dam, and were rewarded with
a herd of 17 elephants all within 20m of our car. They ranged in ages from the matriarch right down to the babies, who looked about a year old. After several minutes they started moving towards our car and I must admit, I was a tad nervous. However, they wandered past without giving us a second thought, and we were blessed with an unobstructed, close encounter with these grand animals.
For lunch we stopped at another dam and watched vervet monkeys play in the trees, with a plethora of hippos and crocodiles sunning themselves on separate sand banks. On the way back out to the main road, we crossed a creek of shallow water and stopped to look up and down the waterway. To our surprise, these tiny heads popped up from the water and started to swim towards us. They were turtles and very curious turtles at that. At first a couple swam up to our car but within seconds they had called their mates and you could see another 20 or so swimming our way. A minute later Dwayne was being eyed by all the turtles in the area and they were most accommodating in having their
picture taken. It was very “ET, phone home” moment.
Our afternoon session provided more zebra, giraffe, hippos, guinea fowl, elephants, squirrels, vultures, more hippos (they’re everywhere!), baboons and steenbok.
Unfortunately no cheetahs or leopards, but we spoke to some German tourists tonight who saw both during their southern drive today, so as we head south we will have increasing hope of seeing these elusive creatures. Sat, 21 Aug – Satara, Kruger NP
Elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard (the big 5), cheetah, giraffe, zebra, hippo, warthog, mongoose, impala, kudu, waterbuck, steenbok, squirrel, ostrich, wildebeest and spotted hyena. That is what we saw today. We couldn't drive 10 minutes without seeing something. Amazing!
Had an extra close encounter with a giraffe on the way out of camp this morning, when he walked towards the car to within a couple of metres. We had our window down and were wondering if he'd pop his head down to check us out but he turned towards the back of the car and continued behind us.
A little further on the main road we spotted a traffic jam. Obviously something big. We approached with caution and were rewarded with a
lioness stalking her prey. Whilst we were watching her, I heard a noise on the other side of the car and turned to see what it was, only to be facing a massive elephant, who'd come out of the bush from nowhere, now 5-10m from us! And we were parked right in her path. She stopped and decided to start snacking, which gave us enough time to move away and give her some space (Kruger recommends 30m!!)
We also saw a fresh kill of buffalo and the silhouette of a cat near the carcass. I thought it was lion but it turned out to be a leopard. We didn't get a long look as she hurried away soon after we arrived, but at least we saw it, even if only for a quick moment. We're hoping for better quality sightings later on.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the day was seeing a family of 4 cheetah. We spotted them on the driver's side and stopped the car as they sauntered across the road and onto the other side. We had plenty of time to get a good look at them and watch them gracefully move over the savannah, so
that was pretty special.
The surprise of the day goes to 2 hyena that we found on the way home. We originally thought they might be warthog but their gait told us they were something else. We stopped the car and they walked to within a metre of the car and sat on the side of the road, looking at us. Dwayne got a fantastic photo. As they crossed, they smelt the car and then lingered on the other side. Their lack of fear was amazing and because they are nocturnal, we feel blessed to have seen them. Sun, 22 Aug - Satara, Kruger NP
Fact: The big 5 are named so because they are the five most dangerous animals to hunt.
Our morning drive was unusually quiet, seeing only the common animals like giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, antelope and warthogs. At lunchtime we had to stop for a large herd of elephants crossing the road, and that was the first major sighting all day. Our picnic spot was beautiful, overlooking Orpen waterhole. There were crocodiles and waterbuck, but not much else.
The drive home was much more productive. We left the main road, onto a
gravel road and came across a waterhole with buffalo and zebra. We were also ecstatic to see yet another large herd of elephants, but this was the first time we'd seen them playing in water. They were rolling and dunking on each other, having a great time. We turned the engine off and watched until they'd crossed to the other side. Just as we were about to leave, another large herd of elephants arrived and started doing the same thing. The difference with this group is that they were extremely skitty (unlike the first herd) and at one point the matriarch turned away from the water and charged a 4wd, trumpeting and flapping her ears. You should have seen the driver step on the accelerator! Watching an elephant run is very funny. They pulled up next to us and we were killing ourselves laughing. They were still getting over the shock.
We rejoined the main road and thanks to a traffic jam, were able to watch a pride of lions for several minutes. 4 females and 1 male all sleeping. A little further on was another traffic jam and we could tell by the amount of cars it was
big (lion, leopard or cheetah usually). It was a leopard. This time we could see the leopard with our binoculars, but she was on the edge of the bush in the shadows and whilst it was a better sighting than our previous day, it still wasn't the close encounter we'd hoped for. Eventually we had to leave in order to make our 4.30pm game drive.
The game drive started off pretty slowly, with mainly the same things we'd been seeing all day but just before sunset we came across a leopard sitting in plain sight on a termite mound mere metres from the track. She pretty much ignored us completely and sat there for what seemed like an eternity, changing position and looking around as she caught sight of something or other. The light was failing by this stage, and not great for photos but finally this was the leopard encounter we'd been hoping for all week. Eventually we left her to her hunting and continued on, still pumped about the experience. A little later on we came across several new animals we'd not come across previously, firstly a Civet - a large cat-like creature, and its relative the
Gennet. Both were amazing to see - the Gennet in particular is really pretty, with spots and a long, bushy, striped tail. All in all, a really successful game drive. Mon, 23 Aug - Skukuza, Kruger NP
Rather than repeat the details of our game viewing today, which was similar to the last few days (saw the "Big 5" again today), here are a couple of highlights.
We sat and watched a leopard lying in the shade near a waterhole for quite a while before she got up and darted into the undergrowth. We'd also been watching a couple of warthogs that were wandering around, seemingly unaware that there was a leopard in the vicinity and when the warthogs started walking near the bushes the leopard had disappeared into we sat up and watched with some interest. I was wondering if the leopard would try her luck with one of them... and sure enough, a few minutes later she made a run (albeit somewhat half-heartedly), for one of them. The warthogs scampered off as fast as they could possibly go and she sat down in the shade again, not really giving much of a chase but it
was pretty exciting there for a few seconds.
Secondly, we came across a new kind of animal we'd never seen before which is always interesting - a family of banded mongoose. That mightn't sound too exciting, but watching them scurry around busily was kind of fun.
The camp we're staying in tonight, Skukuza, is the biggest camp in the park, with accommodation for probably somewhere approaching 1000 people, a bank, post office, restaurant, rental car place, shop, theatre and Laundromat. However, despite its size it's unobtrusive on the landscape and you wouldn't even know it exists if it weren't on the map. It doesn't have a big camp feel, which is a nice surprise from what we were expecting. It's very tastefully designed. In fact, all the rest camps have been of good standard and a cheap way of seeing the park for $100 a night, or less in some cases. We've had our own ensuite, fridge, electricity and air conditioning, and it's a nice way to "camp" without the hassle of tenting.
We're so impressed by what Kruger has shown us these past couple of days. The accommodation has been pleasant, the wildlife has been prolific
and despite hosting up to 12,000 visitors a night, for much of the time you feel like you're the only people in the park, especially if you get off the main roads. I can see why it's one of the most famous game parks in the world.
Only odd thing about South Africa is that the black people are not very friendly. They always have a frown and when checking in or buying groceries at the supermarket, they couldn't be more disinterested. Maybe they don't like us because we're white, but whatever the reason returning my smile shouldn't be that hard. The exception to our experience was the lady who checked us in at Satara camp. She was warm and friendly. Tue, 24 Aug - Lower Sabie, Kruger NP
Tip #1: Never send a man to do the shopping. He'll always come back with more things than were on the list.
We needed bread for lunch before we left camp, and since I was driving Dwayne jumped out to get a loaf for R7 (rand). After 10 minutes I was about to go looking for him when he returned, having spent over R100. He'd bought the
bread alright, but he'd also picked up a small chilly bag and some coconut liqueur, amongst other things. I should have known.
We wanted to head down a particular road that had seen leopard and cheetah the previous day, and with Dwayne navigating us, we started out. We had a 1/4 tank of petrol which was enough to get us through to lunchtime. It was a very quiet drive, sighting only elephant and rhino. We did see a freshly killed impala, which was sad and interesting, and whilst we looked around for predators we saw nothing but vultures. When we kept passing roads that were apparently "not on the map", I knew something was amiss. Dwayne had navigated us down the wrong road for over 2 hours!
We quickly took the next turn towards the road we wanted, and with only 60km between us and our destination, we thought we'd be ok. Until our petrol flight started flashing. We weren't sure if it would get us another 60km in such hilly, graveled terrain. To make matters worse, they were burning a section of the park and hadn't closed off the road that we were using, which was the
main burn line. So, with our petrol light flashing, flames taller than our Corolla on the left verge, unbelievable heat and smoke so thick you couldn't see the road, we were a tad anxious. Couldn't stop because of the flames, couldn't go forward because of the lack of visibility.
However, after 30km we made it back to the main road and after a quick lunch stop we coasted in to the petrol station on the smell of an oily rag.
The afternoon drive furnished with several lion sightings but they were quite distant and not good quality - no cheetah or leopard.
After dinner our cottage neighbours, South Africans, spotted movement at the camp fence and we all hurried down to find a young hyena. You're not allowed to feed the animals but that didn't stop our neighbour from grabbing a piece of Nyala meat (antelope) that they'd shot a week earlier, and threw it over the fence to the youngster. He was very nervous and it took several minutes for him to come forward. He gingerly picked it up and carried it back into the bush for eating. We were all disappointed as we wanted to
watch him eat it. Still, it's so cool to be so close to the animals. Wednesday, 25 August - Hlane NP, Swaziland
We farewelled Kruger NP (and I navigated this time!), seeing none of the big 5 on the way out.
The drive towards Swaziland was kilometres of shanty towns and poverty. It amazes us how many people are standing around doing nothing, or walking along the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Every house is a hive of activity with people in their yards. Women carrying bundles on their head, men watching the cars go by, cows/goats/chickens wandering around unfenced and children playing on the side of the road without an adult in sight (why are they not at school?). I know they have a high unemployment rate, but until you've seen it you can't imagine so many people not working.
Next stop was a border crossing at Swaziland. That was way harder than it should have been. First we had to get out at the SA border and fill in forms for both customs and immigration. Then we drove 50m to the Swaziland office and had to go into their customs
and immigration. One guy waved us on to a women, who waved us on to the border police and the border police waved us back to the original guy. Eventually the immigration guy did what the border policeman was telling him, and we were admitted into Swaziland.
We contemplated briefly going to Maputo (Mozambique) for lunch but since we hadn't told Europcar that we wanted to venture there, insurance wouldn't cover us and we decided against taking the risk.
The immediate difference we notice in Swaziland is that there are far fewer people standing or wandering aimlessly. Hardly anyone is at home, there isn't anywhere near the amount of rubbish littering the landscape and pretty trees adorn the roadside. The Swazi King obviously likes a clean country.
We arrive at our next destination, Hlane NP (pronounced "Sh-lahn-ee"). This is the biggest national park in Swaziland, and used to be the King's private hunting ground. They've restocked it with big game so we're hoping to see more cheetah, although we've only got 1 full day to do it so not holding our breath. The Swazi people are friendlier than their South African neighbours and upon check in, the
girl nicknames me "Beyonce". Now all of her sentences sound like "You go out the gate, Miss Beyonce, and along the road for 10km. Your cottage is unlocked. Thank you for coming, Miss Beyonce."
Our place is a 2 bedroom stone cottage, positively huge compared to our previous accommodations. It's got a full kitchen, lounge room mostly made of glass windows and bathroom with bath and shower, a fireplace and it overlooks a river. It's very secluded, with only five other chalets beside us and 10km from the main camp. For $80 a night it's such great value. As I write we're watching a vervet monkey in the tree and listening to warthogs snuffle for food.
Dwayne has lit the fire so we'll have dinner, watch an episode of Top Gear and retire to bed. Thursday, 26 August - Hlane NP, Swaziland
The alarm chimed at 6am and we headed off after a quick shower and some juice. If Kruger made us feel safe and bold enough to seek out dangerous animals, Hlane makes us feel like sitting ducks. The landscape has thickets right to the road and you can't see animals until you are almost
on top of them.
We round a corner to find 4 large white rhino sleeping in the morning sun, about 10m in front of us. Two of them get up at the engine noise, whilst the other two keep slumbering. We're unsure how tolerant they are of cars and we take extra precaution in giving them space. Unfortunately they are right next to the road so we can't pass until they move. After 15 minutes they're still there and with no room to turn around or reverse, we decide to limp past them, hoping they wouldn't charge us. We approach and our hearts beat doubly fast as we pass within 2 metres. We are so close that the standing rhino's face and horn take up our entire window frame. He gives us an uncertain look and shifts his weight, and we accelerate to get out of there - a little too close for comfort!
Only a few minutes later however, we careened around a blind corner at the reckless speed of 20km/hour and surprised a very small baby elephant. After a few moments he careened off into the bush and left us wondering where his mother and the
rest of the herd were. We sat still for about 5 minutes waiting to see where she was, but when she didn't appear we decided to continue. It wasn't until we were level with the baby elephant that we saw her just off to his side. A moment of panic hit when we saw her, as we had no idea if she would make a run at us and if she did, there was no time or space for us to get out of her way. However, whilst the baby was flapping his ears, stomping his feet and looking like he wanted to charge us, mum took it all in her stride and just watched while continuing to eat. Again, a little close for comfort.
On the way back to the cabin, we witnessed a mass of vultures swarm onto a kill, but also a maribou stork wading among them eating. We also spotted a new type of antelope, Nyala, which Dwayne had eaten but we hadn't seen.
Apart from these small encounters, we did not see any of the cats for the entire day. We covered all 50km of tracks but the landscape is so thick that
there's no way you could pick them, even if they were within sight. Overall a disappointing experience and I wouldn't come back here again, nor recommend it. The accommodation is wonderful and if you want a relaxing, quiet camp with not much to do, then this is fine. Just not great for cats. Friday, 27 August - Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve
Left Hlane nice and early so we could get on the road and make it to Hluhluwe for our night's accommodation and have time to do some shopping on the way, and maybe get some time on the internet to catch up with things.
The border crossing back into South Africa was relatively painless and with 30 minutes extra time up our sleeves, we were looking forward to a relaxing drive. That was until the government decided the main national highway needed upgrading - for 50km! Top speed was exceedingly random. In some places the traffic was doing 120kph in 40 zones, and in other places the traffic was completely stationery. We saw pieces of log and stone on the upgraded road, and soon realised they were there to stop people driving on it. For sure, as
soon as those pieces were gone, the traffic ducked in between the cones and drove up the roadwork area, passing all the traffic. People here are crazy drivers and we've come to especially hate the hundreds of mini vans (Dwayne calls them blaxi - black taxi).
We quickly lost our 30 minute advantage and by 5pm were scrambling to get to Hluwluwe before the gates closed at 6pm. We made it just in time and arrived at our rondavel, starting (as we didn't have time to stop for lunch).
As it's monthly anniversary and we didn't have time to shop, we ate at the camp restaurant. Thanks to a delicious buffet, we are now increased with girth.
A side note - I'm sick of the bad service and disorganisation here. Everything is complex, chaotic and nothing ever runs smoothly. Ask three different people a question and you'll get four different answers - all of them wrong. Rock up with your accommodation voucher and the guy rolls his eyes because he can't find your reservation number and somehow it's your fault. And he can't possibly search by your surname, as that would make sense. Of course he eventually
finds it and chides us for not giving the right information (despite it being all there on the voucher). There are days when I'm dying to speak to someone who is organised. It shouldn't be this hard.
Unhelpful, unfriendly. Reminds us of Italy. We love being on our own with the animals and landscape - it's the people that are frustrating. Saturday, 28 August - Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve
We went in search of black rhino, which we've yet to see, and instead saw tons of white rhinos at the beginning and end of our 11 hour drive. The time in between was a whole lot of nothing. There was the odd giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, hippo, various kinds of antelope, mongoose, baboons, warthogs, monkeys, bats and birds but most of the time it was just us and the impala. I know this sounds like a lot of game viewing, but we probably only saw these things for a combined total of 2 hours out of the 11, so it felt like we saw nothing. We did see elephant at sunset but on the whole, I'd have to say the pickings were not great. Certainly no cats.
One thing that was interesting was the Game Capture centre. After looking through the exhibition area, we walked into the amphitheatre as they had a talk going which we thought was for the public. Turns out we'd invited ourselves to a game ranger’s conference. We sat and listened to the lecture for about 30 minutes and found it quite interesting. The speaker told us of a private game farm owner who injected Strychnine into his rhino's horns (completely harmless to the animal). One of them was poached and the horn ended up in China and a man died after ingesting the horn and poison. Now several farmers are injecting poison into their rhino's horns to try and fight back against poaching (another rhino was poached this week while we were at Kruger so poaching has been in the news here). What a brilliant idea.
We came home to an exciting night of Saturday fun - doing the laundry. Unfortunately the Laundromat that said the machines needed R5 coins was wrong. The machines didn't like our coins at all. Apparently they like the old design and not the current currency and with reception closed and no coin change machine, we
were left to wash undies in the bathroom sink. Yet again, harder than it needs to be.
Well, this is the last wildlife park in the northern section of our journey and the verdict is in and it's unanimous - Kruger is king. The mere concentration of animals is what sets it apart from these other reserves. If I were coming back here again I would skip Madikwe, Hlane and Hluhluwe and stay in Kruger for longer. Don't get me wrong - Madikwe was fantastic but for ease of geography (ie minus the 8hr detour) I would combine my luxury and self-drive experiences in the same park. Still, it's been great for seeing a wide variety of landscapes and countryside, which is what we wanted. Sunday, 29 August - Drakensberg World Heritage Area
We inadvertently slept in this morning until 8.30am and had to get cracking for our 5hr drive south. On the way out of Hluwe we saw a massive herd of giraffe - 16 in total. I never tire of seeing giraffe and zebra.
The drive down to Durban was pleasant and the landscape changed from brown and dry to green, rolling hills. Some
of it reminded us of the English countryside. We stopped off at a shopping centre for supplies and indulged in our first paid lunch. It was a mexican pizza, but not as we know pizza. Instead, it was two large tortillas with a guacamole and cream cheese filling, topped with beans, corn chips, jalapenos and cheese. It was more like a sandwich than a pizza, and it was so good. Must try it at home.
The drive out to the Drakensberg was filled with smoke as fields cindered away, and this unfortunately hid the mountains until we were almost on top of them. All the thick haze is a real damper on the sightseeing, as it's hard to appreciate the scale and beauty of this area when you can't really see it.
The drive to our camp was interesting. African rondavels and mud huts scattered across the foothills, children playing on the road and animals wandering fenceless with no regard for the 100km speed limit. Just when you lull into a westernised familiarity on sophisticated freeways, you get onto the back roads and are reminded of the primitive existence of so many.
Our camp, Didima, is in
the mountains at the base of Cathedral Peak. The peak stands at 3000m and is surrounded by several other tall peaks about the same height. It's a stunning location and the resort is stylish and upmarket, if not quite as luxurious as our digs at Madikwe. Our chalet is triangular in shape with a full kitchen, ensuite, fireplace and patio overlooking Cathedral Peak. Monday, 30 August - Drakensberg World Heritage Area
The main activity in this area is hiking, so after a leisurely morning we headed off for a "moderately strenuous" (according to the description) hike to Rainbow Gorge. The initial part of the hike is all uphill, and after 300m I wanted to turn back for a nap! However, soon enough we descended into the cool forest and hiked the length of the gorge, following a beautiful little stream all the way. The path was more like an overgrown track with many obstacles that needed climbing. Towards the end of the gorge the path disappeared altogether and we rock-hopped up the stream, criss crossing from side to side.
At the end of the gorge, we surprised an old naked man who was warming himself in the
sun after his skinny dip! We decided to head back and stop at one of the turquoise green pools for lunch and soak our weary feet. It was a 27C day and the icy waters were very refreshing. I briefly contemplated going for a swim but with no towel, I decided it was a bit too cold.
We arrived back at camp and had a nap before dinner out on the patio, enjoying the amazing silhouetted mountains in the dusk and the cooler temperature of approaching night. Tuesday, 31 August - Drakensburg World Heritage Area
We decided that we couldn't visit the Drakensburg area without seeing one of the iconic vistas of South Africa, the Amphitheatre. It's an 8km long wall of kilometer high cliffs - and maybe see a little bit on the drive to and from the area. Today is the last day that people are allowed to do burn offs without getting special dispensation, so I think we are here a week or so too early, but you don't know these things until you arrive.
We arrived at the amphitheatre, in Royal Natal NP, and did a small hike up to some falls
- the Cascades, which remind me a little of one of the falls in the Blue Mountains - Wentworth Falls. There were several of them and the pools were crystal clear and would be a joy to swim in summer. After the hike, we found a shady spot with a picnic table and had a great lunch and enjoyed watching a whole variety of birds who came to check us and the food out. The hummingbird was especially cool to watch as he flitted from flower to flower, wings moving faster than the eye could see.
Tomorrow we fly out of Durban to Port Elizabeth, so we need to clear out the (absolutely filthy, slightly scratched and totally thrashed) Corolla, repack our stuff for the flight and eat all our remaining food. Then I predict some lying on the beds because we've eaten too much... Wednesday, 1 September - Addo Elephant NP
The first day of spring rose bright and warm, and with our chalet having skylights we were awake at 6.30am. We started for Durban Intl airport, hoping to be there by 12pm for our 1pm flight. We made good time and pulled into the airport
at 11.45am, just south of Durban, only to find it completely shut down. Turns out it's been replaced by King Shaka Intl AIrport and we needed to go another 60km - north. Would have been good if either Europcar, South African Airlines or our travel agent had mentioned that!
We arrived with 5 mins left before check in closed and as soon as we went through security, they announced a final boarding call for our flight. Nonetheless we made it and flew into Port Elizabeth on time.
We arrived at the rental car place for car #2, only to find they'd entered the wrong rental date (1 Aug) and cancelled our booking when we were a no show. That was another 45 minute delay. We eventually got our horrible little Renault (HLR) and bounced our way to Addo Elephant NP.
This is 164,000 hectares of land preserved for the remaining Eastern Cape elephants, originally hunted down to only 9 before the park was established. We're in a safari tent, mounted off the ground on a deck. As I type, we are overlooking a waterhole and the vastness of the park, watching the stars continue to increase every
minute. I think it's going to be a cold night in this canvas bedroom. Thursday, 2 September - Tsitsikamma NP
I was freezing last night. Couldn't find any extra blankets either. Guess I should have looked in the blanket box except someone put their backpack on it so I didn't know it existed.
Yesterday we booked a game drive for 0700h this morning and arrived at the departure office at 0650, as instructed. By 7.05am we knew something was wrong. We returned to the game office only to be told that the drive departed at 0630, despite the confirmation they had given us saying 0700. We asked for a refund and promptly jumped in our car to get in some game viewing before our 10am checkout. Note to self: when we want our holiday to run without a hitch, go to Europe.
As annoyed as we were, we were soon rewarded with the jackpot - a male lion feasting on the remains of a buffalo, with jackals and hyena lurking nearby. He was not far from the road, 20m maybe. He would eat, and pause, and eat, and chase away a hyena, and return to eat.
The fact that there was a traffic jam didn't seem to faze him in the slightest. He was beautiful to watch although the bone crunching and graphic carcass, which was clearly audible and visible, made me feel a little queasy at times. We watched him for 45 minutes and eventually had to bid him farewell. We also saw kudu, elephants and a little rodent of some sort.
The drive south passed through some quaint countryside consisting of rolling green hills and spacious farms. Not a lot of shanty towns here. Unlike the north, where winter is dry season, the south has a wet winter like Sydney. So it's VERY green from all the rain. Speaking of rain, we haven't had rain yet and it's been 19 days. There's been a couple of sprinkles but nothing consistent or prolonged. Talk about fortunate.
Tsitsikamma (pronounced Tit-si-kahma) is the second most visited NP in South Africa, behind Kruger. It's a coastal park where rainforest meets ocean and our studio townhouse is right on the water overlooking the rock shelf and pounding waves. They also have cute little cottages and every townhouse/cottage has an ocean view. It's quite a big camp and
easily the nicest we've been to. The facilities are comprehensive, they're maintained well and the location is simply majestic.
We went for a walk this afternoon to a suspension bridge over Storms River Mouth. This is where the river leaves it's deep gorge and meets the Indian Ocean. The bridge is 77m long so quite impressive. We also saw dassies, which are small animals similar to a marmot (and if you don't know what that is, a large guinea pig is the next closest thing). Supposedly their closest relatives are elephants and dugong - go figure!!
Tonight as the sun was setting and we were sitting on our balcony, we watched a large pod of dolphins body surf the waves. On one wave there was at least 20 of them all lined up in a row across the break. Very cool.
Dwayne has turned on the under floor heating so I don't have a repeat of last night's big freeze. Friday, 3 September - Tsitsikamma NP
After a toasty night's sleep, we were welcomed to a magical blue sky day, calm waters all the way to the horizon and a pod of 200+ dolphins playing
in the waves. As we watched their antics from our balcony, Dwayne saw several plumes further out to sea - migrating whales! We weren't initially sure what sort of whales they were, until 5 minutes later when a Humpback launched his entire body vertically into the air, and crashed back to the surface with a mighty splash. For the next hour we delighted in fin flaps, tail slaps and breaches. The dolphins were doing their best to impress as well, but jumps don't really compare to a humpback breach.
The Otter Trail is a coastal walk that usually takes 5 days/4 nights to complete, but since we didn't have that much time we decided to walk the first part of it. We were hoping to see Cape otters but they are quite elusive and evaded us for the duration of the walk. We made good time for the 3.1km section and arrived at the waterfall right on lunchtime. We were the first and only people to have walked there as of 11.30am, so we had the lovely view to ourselves. The waterfall was impressive, falling from 100m up with a series of interlocking cascades down to a rock pool
emptying into the ocean. By midday several groups started to arrive so we headed back to camp.
This afternoon we ventured to Bloukrans Bridge, the site of the highest bungee in the world (216m). Looking at the arch bridge and jump area was a little nerve racking, but as I got closer to the prep area and eventually the ledge, my nerves dissipated and by the time I had my toes hanging over the edge, I was completely calm and ready to fly. There was 5 seconds of free-fall so it was quite a good ride. Didn't really feel any higher than the Nevis Bungee (136m) at Queenstown, which is a bit of a shame as I was hoping the greater height would have meant a greater fear factor. Maybe fear plateaus after 150m? Dwayne says that like anything, you get diminishing returns as numbers go up.
Today is Philip's birthday, so "Happy birthday Philip!" Saturday, 4 September - Knysna
We regrettably left our spot at Tsitsikamma and continued west to Knysna. People don't seem to burn off down here so the air is blue and the horizon clear, distinctly lacking smoke. The rolling hills have
receded to make way for mountains, and thus we were able to enjoy the views of mountains meeting sea, and the highway nestled in between the two.
Plettenberg Bay and Knysna are both gorgeous towns on the coast and we spent the afternoon wandering around the heads of Knysna. Again, it was a pleasant 27C day and the azure waters were made brighter by the sun. I wish we had more time here as Knysna is definitely a beautiful town worth relaxing in.
For dinner we walked 5 blocks to the Waterfront and ate at Limoncello. Dwayne had a cheese course meal (deep fried camembert, blue cheese salad & gorgonzola penne) and I had a wonderful fish dish of Kingklip. I don't usually like fish but it's one of SA's favourite fish and the maitre'd promised me it was a subtle taste, so I had to try it. I finished the whole dish and Dwayne said he'd never seen me eat that much fish before.
Dessert was to die for - deep fried chocolate spring rolls. Three logs of yummy pastry, filled with delectable chocolate and all for the bargain price of R38 ($5). Food here is
so cheap. Even our meal tonight (drinks, entree, salad, 2 mains, 2 desserts, coffee and tip) was only $60 and the quality was something that would cost twice that much at home. And that was one of the more expensive restaurants in Knysna!
I do have to say that I hate the whole tipping thing. It feels like everywhere you go everyone has their hand out. I wish they would just raise the prices and include the tip in that. Sunday, 5 September - Hermanus
We had 500km to cover between Knysna and Hermanus, so we set off at 8.30am. The drive along the garden route was very pretty - rolling green hills sprinkled with hedges, farmhouses. paddocks filled with cows, ostriches and calla lilies dotted along the fence lines. Since we had a little bit of extra time we took a slightly longer scenic route and stopped in a little town called Napier for lunch. We were barreling along the country road at 120 when we saw a lump on the road, slammed on the brakes and reversed. The lump was a little leopard tortoise. We got out and "chased" him into the long grass a
little off the road, but he was very cute.
The south is much more westernised and sophisticated compared to its northern sister. The houses are on larger blocks, are more lavishly designed and the fences are smaller, some even without barb wire. People obviously spend a lot less on security in this part of the country. We would never walk around Jo'berg at 9pm like we did at Knysna. Overall though, we've always felt safe and haven't had any close calls or incidents of concern.
Hermanus is whale mecca which is why we've decided to stay here for 2 nights. At the moment it's a sleepy little town but I'm sure it would absolutely buzz in summer. It's only 150km away from Capetown so it's the playground of the rich. It's not a very big town so we were able to park the car and hoof it around for a look.
There is a 10km cliff walk and whilst we were walking several hundred metres of it this arvo, I saw something that looked like a rock, just off shore. A loud breathe told us it was whales. Three massive Southern Right Whales just floating in the
shallow waters. We sat and watched them until they dived and continued back to our apartment for some dinner. Whilst relaxing on our lounge room couch eating cheese and crackers, we spotted another one having a "whale of a time" (sorry, but it had to be used) breaching and fin flapping. We didn't even need to go outside to watch. Our apartment is pretty budget (think grandma's house) but at $50p/n you can't get backpackers this cheap. However, it's right on the water and we have whales for neighbours so that makes up for its shortcomings.
It's my dad's 60th birthday today. They contemplated coming here with us and we wish they had. It would have been an awesome birthday trip and he would have loved it. "Happy birthday dad!" Monday, 6 September - Hermanus
It rained overnight but the clouds were thoughtful enough to recede for us and the morning felt like a normal winter morning in Sydney - cold, crisp and clear - except for the whales breaching out our window. We had a leisurely breakfast, caught up with some emails and headed out.
Hermanus feels a lot like the town of Kiama -
a sleepy little place on the coast a little over an hour south of Sydney. We like it a lot. There is a walk along the coast that runs for about 8-10kms and we wanted to walk the western portion of it (we had walked the eastern part yesterday).
We must have seen 15-20 whales throughout the day, including several mothers and calves playing and breeching in the shallow waters. There wasn't an hour go past that didn't have a plume or breech of some kind. Similar to a town crier, Hermanus has a whale crier who blows a kelp horn every time he sees a whale, just so you don't miss out.
I also went into a De Beers jewelry store to check out their famous diamonds. They showed me a 1/2 carat loose diamond that was quite stunning and very reasonable at $2500 for the cut and clarity. I didn't buy it but I couldn't come to South Africa and not hold a DB diamond.
Along the walk, we saw tons of dassie and even saw a dung beetle. We think it might have been an endangered African flightless dung beetle, which almost became even
more endangered when Dwayne nearly stepped on him and his treasure of dung! The beetle reversed his back legs up onto his round ball of poo and started rolling it down the path backwards. He got quite a bit of speed for a little beetle and it was funny to watch (and very smelly!) We video'd it on our camera and watching it back gave Dwayne several minutes of teary hysterics. Even as I write, Dwayne is laughing intermittently at the memory. Who'da thunk a little beetle would be so humourous? Tuesday, 7 September - Capetown
We followed the coast road from Hermanus, around False Bay, to the Cape of Good Hope. It was a sunny day and the light made the waters gleam of different hues of blue. The drive was extremely windy but it only served to enhance the already sparsely vegetated cliffs that the road was etched into. The entire bay is ringed by tall mountains with sheer cliffs that face the water. I thought it was more stunning than the Great Ocean Road.
At Betty's Bay we stopped off at an African penguin colony, one of only a couple on the African mainland,
paid our $1.50 entry fee and spent the next 30 minutes watching them waddle and bellow like donkeys. There were hundreds of them of all ages.
We reached Table Mountain NP, of which Cape of Good Hope is part of, just after lunch. The terrain reminded us very much of Newfoundland. Lots of rocky outcrops and nothing over 4ft tall. Certainly no trees, just coastline and mountains that went on as far as the eye could see. Anyway, we got out at Cape Point and if we thought it was windy at Betty's Bay, Cape Point literally blew us away. We could barely stand and were surprised at the strength and consistency of it. The spray from the waves smeared our windscreen within the minute. The waves were wild and it was only a matter of seconds before my hair was the same.
We walked up to the old lighthouse at Cape Point and then down to Cape of Good Hope, the most south-western part of the African continent and where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. It was getting late so we started for Capetown.
The drive between the Cape and Capetown went over a pass
called Chapman's Peak and it was breathtaking, easily rivaling the Amalfi coast for its views and tenuous position on the side of the mountain. We were about 500m up and 2m from the car door to the cliff edge. I simply can't do the description justice. It was AMAZING.
Our apartment in Capetown is in one of the best suburbs, Clifton Beach (think Kirribilli). It's on the beach, with Table Mountain separating us from the downtown area. Imagine Table Mountain separating Kirribilli and Circular Quay. The apartment is very spacious - probably bigger than our old house in Asquith! The bedroom, lounge room and dining room all have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Atlantic. Dwayne was extremely happy when he saw a bikini model doing a photo shoot on the beach below our balcony. I was extremely happy to find a combo washing machine/dryer in the kitchen. Wednesday, 8 September - Capetown
As yesterday involved a lot of driving, we decided to have a day of walking around the city. We drove the 15 minute traverse around Table Mountain and parked at the Company Gardens. These are a beautiful stretch of manicured gardens in the centre of town,
and much to my delight they also house my favourite animal - squirrels. I could have sat and watched them all day but we had places to go and things to see, so we started for the V&A Waterfront.
Victoria & Albert (V&A) Waterfront is a working dock that has been turned into a touristy area of shops, restaurants and tour companies. Dwayne said it reminded him of the America's Cup Village in Auckland. We wandered around before savouring some fresh fish and chips at one of the restaurants overlooking a waterway.
After lunch we hoofed it back into town to the District Six Museum. It commemorates one of the more publicised injustices of apartheid. In the 60's the government declared district 6 a white zone and forcibly evicted 50,000 coloured residents and bulldozed their homes and businesses. Over the next two decades they demolished the suburb, even going to the extent of redesigning the street layout. Unfortunately they were unable to find white people who wanted to settle there and to this day much of the area remains undeveloped. It was fascinating to see a grid of what the suburb used to look like, compared to the
current streets we were now walking.
We left the museum and made our way back through the gardens to the Mount Nelson, an Orient Express hotel, for high tea. Unlike high teas in Australia, this was a buffet and arriving to see the heavy-laden table made me giddy with excitement. And so we sat on the terrace, soaking up the blue skies and temperate breeze, overlooking the water fountain, manicured gardens and Table Mountain. We sipped exotic teas and indulged our taste buds with scones, cucumber sandwiches, quiches, pastry items and all manner of slices and cakes. Hello another 3kg! My favourite was the chocolate éclairs and opera slice. It was all very sensible, cultured and totally fattening but it was the highlight of the day.
On the way home we stopped at Signal Hill, a lookout opposite Table Mountain with a 360 degree view of the bay and beaches. We made it home in time to watch the sunset whilst sitting on our beach. Thursday, 9 September - Capetown
Thirty minutes out of Capetown are the wine lands. First stop was a winery called Spiers, which has a cheetah centre. We were able to see
the cheetahs up close in their enclosures and we could have paid a small price to pat one, but interacting with them in such a captive environment just wasn't the way we wanted to remember cheetahs.
Next stop was Stellenbosch, which sits in a valley surrounded by mountains. It had cute, narrow tree lined streets packed with shops, cafes and restaurants. Franschoek is a quieter town with a distinctly French influence. It's streets are wide and it's a completely different feel to Stellenbosch. There are a plethora of wineries and we headed to Moreson for lunch. The Lonely Planet had recommended their restaurant, Bread & Wine, for the breads and Mediterranean influences. And true to its word, we indulged (again) in great food on a sun-drenched courtyard in the warm afternoon.
Cape Town is probably one of the best cities we've ever visited in terms of location and the physical surroundings - the weather, the ocean, the beaches, the views, the mountains, the wineries and game reserves. Apart from a ski field, you have everything you could want within a 1/2 - 1hr drive. Whilst the city itself doesn't have the charm of classics like Paris or London,
I think its location is the best in the world that we've seen. Friday, 10 September - Capetown
The cloud from yesterday had lifted, so we considered going up table mountain - however the cable car was closed due to gale force winds at the top, so it was not to be. We were content though with views of the city from the base of the cable car so it wasn't too much different. There wasn't anything massively high on our "to do" list, so we headed into the city to just walk around and get more of a feel for the place, have a little lunch and maybe find some internet access.
On the way back from the city we detoured through the Constantia valley, the oldest winemaking area on the Cape, and the location of a Groot Constantia, now a museum (though still a working winery) and supposedly an excellent example of Cape Dutch architecture. We're always interested in seeing how people lived and what things were like in the past so though it wasn't a long stop, it was pretty and quite interesting from that point of view. The Constantia valley itself is very
pretty, and reminds me a little of somewhere like Dural - lots of stately homes, big leafy green trees everywhere and doesn't feel at all like it's only 15 mins out of the city.
After getting back to our apartment, we went for a walk on Clifton beach and sat in the sun, watching the waves and bikini babes. Saturday, 11 September - Somewhere in Darkest Africa
The day started off terribly. The dryer in our apartment didn't work, and we didn't find this out until really late last night. There are no Laundromats open at midnight in Capetown, we know this from experience. So we ironed and hair dried the clothes until 3.30am, when we eventually gave up. Unfortunately most of our clothes were still wet when we had to pack at 6am which didn't leave a lot of time for sleep.
We boarded our luxury train just after 9am and settled into compartment 2G, quickly turning it into something resembling a Chinese laundry. It's a long train with 2 engines, a generator carriage, 2 cargo carriages, 2 vehicle carriages, 2 dining cars, a kitchen car, a lounge car, smoking lounge car and 6 sleepers.
There are possibly more that we haven't discovered (like staff quarters).
The social calendar includes welcome drinks, a 3-course lunch, afternoon tea and 5-course dinner.
We left Capetown and snaked our way through the scenic wine lands, changing to rich fields of waving grain and orchards. The dramatic mountains and greenery in the wine lands eventually gave way to wide valleys, narrow gorges and rockier mountain ranges. After passing through a tunnel that seemed to go on forever, we came out in the Karoo - a desert landscape of dry, relatively flat terrain dotted with low scrub. Not a tree or person in sight, punctuated by the occasional small town, springbok, lone sheep or the like.
Returning from dinner we find our compartment made up for sleeping - with white linen, and surprisingly comfortable beds. Trains are a much more relaxed and civilised way to travel - you get to walk around between the cars, eat great food on proper plates, chat and get to know your fellow travelers in the lounge car if you feel so inclined. It's been a great day. Sunday, 12 September - Jo'berg
Somewhere overnight we doubled our speed and
the gentle sway changed to the rhythmic frolic of speed. It took a while to get used to the track noises but whilst it was a broken sleep, it was a great way to travel.
I witnessed the sunrise (it's very unusual for me to be up that early) then headed for the shower when Dwayne woke up, where we opened the window and under the water's spray, watched the world breeze past.
The scenery has changed again back to the familiar terrain of the north. Dry, brown grasses, acacia trees, burnt fields, cattle farms, factories, constant haze, endless rubbish and towns litter the landscape.
The Jo'berg station arrived soon after breakfast and that signaled the end of our sojourn. Premiere Class has been a fantastic way to travel and if I had to travel between Capetown/Durban/Jo'berg again, I'd definitely do Premiere again. All the trimmings of luxury but without the price tag of the Orient Express' Blue Train. It's budget luxury - I call it buxury!
Definite highlights for me have been Madikwe, Kruger, Western Cape and Premiere Class. I probably wouldn't come back here in a hurry, but only because there are so many
other places to visit first. We travelled 6000km in 4 weeks, so we think we saw a pretty good variety of what South Africa has to offer.
It was a great way to celebrate our wedding anniversary.
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