South Africa - 6 to 18 November 2013


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Africa » South Africa
November 18th 2013
Published: November 29th 2013
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As you can well imagine we were not sad to leave Mozambique and getting through the border crossing at the Giriyondo Border Gate and into South Africa was really easy, no queues and no holdups. Once we left the Mozambique border post, we walked through to the next building and got our passports stamped for entry back into South Africa.







We travelled along gravel roads through Limpopo National Park and seamlessly into Kruger National Park, both these parks had their fences removed in 2006 to allow animals to wander freely. Kruger together with Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park and Limpopo National Park in Mozambique have become part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Thus joining some of the most established wildlife areas in Southern Africa into a huge conservation area - a cross-border conservation initiative between Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique.





Kruger National Park, is the largest game reserve in South Africa - larger than Israel. Nearly two million hectares of land that stretch for 352 kms from north to south along the Mozambique border. Compared to most of the other parks we have visited, Kruger has an extensive network of sealed roads which made for a less bumpy journey.



We arrived at Lataba Rest Camp, a bush camp midway between the southern and northern boundaries of the park set on the banks of a river of the same name. The name means ‘river of sand’, and the sandy riverbed is an excellent location for game viewing and you can watch them quite easily from the bar restaurant. We quickly erected our tents and were pleased to say that this would be the last time we would have to do so - on this tour! Letaba Camp is a small green oasis in the surrounding mopane veld and a relaxing place to set up camp. The mopane tree with its distinctive 'butterfly' shaped leaves is a principal food source for many insects and animals and at night you could hear a symphony of sounds. In particularly large owls and small frogs, but noisiest of all were the cicadas, all seemed to vie with each other to be heard in such a high pitch that your ears buzzed. In the camp kitchen or near any lights they would dive bomb you and the area became overrun with them - you had to ensure that your head torch was not switched on!!!!. The facilities at the camp were excellent with swimming pool and a good shop where we even got to have an ice cream, the first for many weeks. There were plenty of good facilities and even large baths in the ladies and gents - a luxury we have not seen for a very long time. We would have to take the opportunity to soak our feet which had become quite dirty as it was impossible to keep them clean!!!!!





We undertook a couple of Game Safaris with the red bus and spotted elephants, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, hippos, crocodiles, lots of different antelope as well as a multitude of birds. Although the animals were not so prolific as other areas we had recently seen. We stopped at Olifants Rest Camp which is situated on top of a hill which towers several hundred feet over the Olifants river. There were excellent views from the lookout platforms to the river far below and we could see many hippos basking in the sun and well as a couple of Giraffe. Jeff told us that a group of giraffe was called a ‘tower’ or ‘journey’. The species name, Giraffa camelopardalis refers to its camel like appearance and leopard like patches on its skin. They even walk similar to a camel moving the two feet on the same side of the body together. The cat also walks in the same way and the cat, camel and giraffe all walk on the tips of their toes, not on the soles of their feet as other animals do.





At night we could hear several hyenas calling loudly, the sound reminded us of our guide, Peter on our last tour as he used his own version of a ‘hyena call’ to wake everyone up in the morning. The camp was enclosed with an electric fence to keep the animals out so we were literally in the zoo. However some of the hyenas had a den just outside the fence so its not surprising they sounded so close at night and you could walk over to visit them from inside our zoo! Just outside the camp gates we encountered a female hyena with her cub and we were rewarded with a fantastic sighting of her suckling the cub in the early morning light. She would wrap her leg around its small body as if protecting it from us - a lovely scene. Hyena young are referred to as cubs and not pups as they are more closely related to cats than dogs. They only begin to follow their mother on hunting and scavenging forays at about one year of age. As we watched from the safety of the bus the mother stopped feeding and wandered off into the bush leaving the cub behind. The cub watched her go before diving back into its den as soon as she was out of sight - knowing even at this young age exactly what to do to avoid getting into trouble. It would be a while before he or she was big enough to follow its mother, although as she/he was the only one he would grow quickly.





One afternoon we visited the Elephant Hall, a small museum within the camp which we found to be a fascinating place and very informative about the life of elephants, particularly in Kruger as well as other animals found in the park. There were special displays of the tusks of some of Kruger’s biggest Elephant Bulls, including the ‘Magnificent Seven’, which used to wander the park from the 1930s to the 1980s. The original seven were Dzombo, Joao, Kambaku, Mafunyane, Ndlulamithi, Shawu and Shingwedzi. These big elephants all had tusks in excess of 50 kgs. The largest belonged to Joao, which had one tusk of an estimated 70 kgs, although his tusks broke off late in his life and they were never recovered. Joao is the only bull whose tusks were not represented at the museum.



The longest tusk belonged to Shawu, a truly impressive 317 cms, and weighed 52 kgs. His tusks are the longest ever recorded in Kruger, and the sixth longest of all African elephants. All the bulls lived for around 50 years, and some for over 60 years. Mafunyane’s tusks were perfectly symmetrical, each one weighing 55 kgs and they were really impressive to see. Dzombo was the only one of the seven to be killed by poachers. According to information at the museum, it was only by a stroke of luck that his two tusks were not taken. He died in a hail of bullets fired by a poacher from Mozambique in 1985. The poachers were in the act of chopping out the tusks when they were disturbed by the approach of a Ranger and fled leaving their trophies behind. It takes quite a while to remove the tusks, as we had seen with the dead elephant at South Luangwa National Park in Zambia a few weeks ago. The other large tusker, Joao could have died the same way as he was wounded by a poacher’s bullet but survived and lived to a ripe old age.



Hunting in Africa has largely eliminated the genes of these large tuskers, and so it’s reassuring to know that the genes of these few legends remain in Kruger’s population of elephants. Hopefully in years to come the descendants of these large tuskers will once again roam Kruger Park once more.



SOME FACTS ABOUT IVORY

The finest ivory comes from elephants but it takes about 20 years for an elephant to grow a tusk that large. Ivory, especially elephant ivory, has long been prized for its beauty, durability, and its suitability for both practical and artistic purposes. Ivory is dentin, what the majority of our own teeth are made of. Human teeth, like those of most animals, are rather small and their dentin is a bit soft. A few animals, however, have very large teeth with very hard, dense dentin. These large teeth are often not inside the animal's mouth but grow outside the mouth and known as tusks. Elephants, hippopotamus, narwhals, whales, and walrus, are the best-know such animals. Tusks are different from horns or antlers because tusks are actually teeth. Animals with tusks do not shed their tusks as many animals with antlers shed their antlers annually. Tusks are teeth but they keep growing over the life of the animal. If an animal looses a tusk, the tusk usually won't grow back. As a result, when we obtain a tusk, the animal is usually dead.



Before the development of modern plastics, ivory was the perfect material for many practical purposes. Ivory is strong and dense and durable. It's water-resistant. It has a pleasant, off-white color and can be dyed to different colors if desired. While strong, it can be carved and drilled into just about any shape you might like. Buttons for clothing were often made of ivory. In fact, while buttons for clothing today are just about always plastic, they're often made to resemble ivory. Billiards or pool balls were made almost exclusively from ivory because ivory can be carved into a round ball but is durable enough to survive the game. Piano keys were made of ebony wood and ivory because these two materials are durable enough to withstand years of playing.





We left Lataba Rest Camp, heading south stopping for a break at Satara Rest Camp before going on a final game drive. Satara is situated in an excellent game viewing area, with the bush relatively open and the animals more plentiful and Jeff thought we would see more wildlife than in the dense mopani woodlands we had just left behind. Within minutes of leaving the rest camp we spotted a couple of White Rhinoceros and the group were delighted as they had now seen the Big 5 on this tour. It was also another first for us, as although we had seen a number of Black Rhinos in Namibia, this was the first time we had seen the white and they were indeed different.





The Black Rhino has a hooked shaped mouth for feeding on trees and shrubs and its head posture faces upwards to aid feeding. The White Rhino has a very broad flat mouth and its natural head posture faces downward as it feeds mainly on grasses. The black is smaller than the white and are very solitary, seldom joining up with others, whereas it is not uncommon to see 10 or 15 white rhinos moving together. There is no colour difference between the two rhinos as the name suggests. The Dutch named the white rhino the ‘Weid mond rhino’, meaning ‘Wide-mouth rhino’ and the English thought they were saying ‘white’, so it was just a misinterpretation of the name. The black rhino is short tempered and extremely aggressive compared to the white, however there are still more incidents of whites attacking people as they far outnumber the black.







We saw many animals but the most numerous were the thousands of Impala in the park most in large herds. A few had just started to have their young and many more were expecting as you could see the little ones pushing against their mothers stomachs. Pregnancy lasts around seven months and ends with just one baby, presumably it would be hard for the mother to protect two from predators! The mother leaves the herd at the end of pregnancy and hides the baby for a few days after birth as it is still very weak and vulnerable. Our guides said that they can delay the birth if the weather conditions are not good but not sure how true that is. Impala is a type of antelope that can be found only in Africa and lives in the grasslands, savannas and on the edges of woodlands. Besides sufficient amount of grass they require a permanent water supply within its habitat. The biggest threat to survival of this species, besides natural predators, is commercial hunting. The black-faced impala is one of the subspecies of impalas that is endangered as a result of over-hunting. We were lucky enough to spot a few when we travelled through Namibia. The Impala is best known by its ability to leap great distances and quickly change direction when it’s chased by predators. They can jump 10 feet in the air and leap a distance of 33 feet when running.










Perched on top of many of the animals were Oxpeckers, both red and yellow billed. These birds eat ticks and other parasites off the backs of large mammals including giraffe, zebra, buffalo and hippos as well as some antelope including the small Impala. The Oxpeckers nests are lined with grasses as well as the hair plucked from their hosts and we watched as one bird flew off with his beak full before returning to collect some more.





We also spotted several Ground Hornbills which are on the list of endangered species. We also saw a large Leopard feeding off its kill, an adult impala and we watched as it tried to tear off its hind-leg. Someone said there was also a cub nearby but the bush was so dense it was hard to see the mother let alone its cub which was well hidden. It was great to see another Leopard but we had really hoped to see a Cheetah. A little later Brian spotted ‘one’ but this also turned out to be ‘just’ another leopard - we have seen so many of these on our journey through southern africa which is really surprising as they are usually hard to ‘spot’ - excuse the pun!





We finally left Kruger National Park via the Orpen Gate and headed into the province bordering the southern Kruger National Park known as Mpumalanga. We passed through an area of agriculture with many fruit plantations and farm with the trees heavily laden with a variety of fruits. When the gold rush ended, the Transvaal diversified into fruit growing, a main source of income and also now heavily augmented with that from tourist heading into Kruger. In the early 2000s the province dropped the old Afrikaner name ‘Transvaal’ in favor of Mpumalanga. Leaving the fruit plantations we steadily climbed and the landscape changed drastically as we watched the meandering rivers disappear far below. There were no stopping places to pause and take in these magnificent views so we all just watched from our red bus. We continued ever upwards through panoramic mountain passes, river canyons and large waterfalls following the Panorama Route. The Drakensberg Escarpment marks the point where the highveld plunges down into the lowveld regions, one of South Africa’s most scenic areas.







We stopped to view Blyde River Canyon, a significant natural feature which forms the northern part of the Drakensberg Escarpment and is one of the largest canyons in the world. It is a staggering 16 miles long, consisting mainly of bright red sandstone. Comparing it to the magnificent Fish River Canyon we had seen in Namibia it is certainly much greener with lush vegetation running down the slopes to the valleys below. The weather was clear and we had a superb view of the three Rondavels, huge round rocks, thought to be reminiscent of the houses or huts of indigenous people, hence the name rondavels. We walked along the edge and stopped to take some photographs of the varying views when we spotted a Blue Agama Lizard perched on a rock overlooking the canyon - what a lovely view. At night, and when the air is cooler these lizards are a dark brown colour, but when it gets warmer during daylight hours, the colour of the males changes to blue and red so I think this one must have been a male. We had parked our bus right next to a battery of souvenir shops full of a multitude of goodies and some of our group proceeded to buy gifts to take home. I helped Tanja haggle for a huge lovely carved wooden giraffe - I do hope she managed to get it home in one piece. Its much more pleasant to haggle for someone else and much easier on the pocket too!





We continued on stopping at Bourkes Luck Potholes, a moonscape of deep hollows and channels, formed by the confluence of the Treur and Blyde Rivers. These Potholes had been formed over centuries of continuous scouring by sand and pebbles carried along by the river, and some of them are almost 600 meters deep. The views from a number of bridges that span the rock formations were quite remarkable and each view was unique, raw natural scenery at it's very best.





It was getting late now and the mist started to come down as we headed off to view God's Window, so called for its panoramic view of the lowveld more than 900 metres down through a thick forest clad ravine, but guess what, we didn’t get any view at all - just pure white clouds! Memories of travelling to the top of Irazu Volcano in Costa Rica only to get just the same view came to mind! We even went back the next morning but the same again, perhaps one day we will get a look out of God’s Window and also Irazu Volcano as well.





We stopped overnight in Graskop a small forestry town perched on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment and had our last night with our tour group. We did not have to erect our tents though which was great, although I was on kitchen duty which was not so great. In the grounds I spotted a Pin-tailed Whydah, the first we had seen in Africa. Looking back on our three safaris throughout Southern Africa each was very different and we have met some lovely people and seen some wonderful wildlife. On the downside the kitchen duties on this particular trip were quite tiresome, on our other trips everyone seemed to muck in each day and it never seemed to be a chore. However on this one, helping to prepare, even do some of the cooking and clear away after 14 people (including the guides) was a bit of a pain. As there were 12 of us ‘travellers’ this came around every four days and as Paul and I had to be on separate days (they split husband and wife) we only had two clear days in between. This limited a lot of our free time when we were on duty and did not get enough time for ourselves. On our first two tours we numbered 8 and 9 (plus guides) and this was a much easier number to cope with when there are limited cooking and hygiene facilities as well as the space on the transport. The long travelling days on this tour also became a bit of a nightmare stuck on a hot sticky (and windy in the back seat) packed bus all day. We felt sorry for Jeff and Jacob who had to drive long distances and try and keep everyone happy, particularly as Jacob had been poorly for part of the trip. Would we do it again - probably not, I think we need a little bit more comfort next time but who knows!!!!!!





The next day we visited Pilgrims Rest a small town which is now a protected heritage site. Gold was discovered here in 1873 and as with most gold towns it suddenly grew overnight with everyone searching for alluvial gold. The town’s original architecture remains largely unchanged since those times and had many interesting buildings as well as a red Post Box bearing the cypher of King Edward VII. Just outside the town was an open-air Diggings Museum complete with miner’s accommodation (tents) and where you can see how gold was panned. Just like we had seen in both New Zealand and Australia. We did not have long in the town which was a shame so may go back for a longer look one day. At the graveyard, every grave is laid facing in the same direction, except for one which is laid perpendicular to the rest and has a cross with the words ’Robbers Grave’. It is said that the grave was laid out that way so that the person could not see the rising sun. He was shot for stealing a tent from one of the miners - a tent represented a ‘home’ so was the most valuable of any individuals belongings at that time. I think we will be glad to see the end of our camping tent though - until the next time that is!!





We finally arrived in Johannesburg the final destination of our tour and said goodbye to our fellow travellers, dropping some at the airport whilst the others were overnighting in the city before going home. We were staying in a guesthouse located in Sandhurst, a quiet suburb of Johannesburg where we were going to ‘chill’ for a few days and organise our final month’s stay in South Africa.





..............time went quickly doing nothing but we thoroughly enjoyed ‘resting’ and getting ready for our next journey. On our last day we had to change guesthouses, because of an overbooking which was a bit of a pain - but this is Africa. Thank you Lucie for organising the move, Sue at the Melrose was great.



We had enjoyed our group tours through Southern Africa but decided we would like to arrange a private trip back to Cape Town. We met up with Albert and Ruth from Zimbabwe who run Ark Safaris and made a plan to travel with them through Swaziland & Lesotho to our final African destination - see you there.


Additional photos below
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1st December 2013

Memories
Hi Guys. So your travels in SA are nearly over. So many memories and places came back as we read your blog - the photo at Blyde River, the one at Bourkes Potholes - yep, we've got all those too. Enjoy Cape Town again as it is a gorgeous city. We leave on 16th January for South America and are really looking forward to our 6 weeks there. Really excited about seeing Patagonia and the Chile fiords and entering the Antarctic waters. Then there's all the music around Rio, and the mighty Iguasu Falls which are supposed to be even bigger than Victoria Falls! Aren't we all so lucky to be fit and active and doing this travelling?
10th December 2013

Good to hear from you
Hi you two - great to hear from you and yes we are lucky to be able to do all this travelling - glad you managed to find a trip to South America it sounds so exciting and we cannot wait to hear all about it - Iguasu Falls are on our list, met so many people who said they are just magnificent - enjoy and enjoy.

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