So… here we are with exactly 2 weeks to go before the big day. Things are getting very exciting now, the closer we get to the start of this adventure, the more exciting it gets!
For the first time in our history we actually feel that we’re going on this trip more organised than we have ever been before. We have purchased all our clothes for the Safari, remembering that it is advised not to wear bright coloured clothes on Safari and that clothing needs to be light but warm because of luggage allowances. So with this in mind we have purchased lightweight Safari clothing, hiking boots and hats. Well … Anaconda had a sale on outdoor clothing so we made a beeline there, and bought up! Only problem is we will look like the Bobbsey Twins because we’ve got the exact same clothing .. and hats!!! Anyway not to worry, we are organised, not packed yet but all our safari stuff is loaded on the spare bed, ready to be packed. The to-do list is getting smaller … YAY!
Our travel book arrived on Friday, “Lonely Planet Southern Africa”, which Karen proceeded to read excerpts from on the way to the Gold Coast yesterday The more she read, the more excited we got about the whole thing!
Well finally, here we are, the morning that we are about to leave on our great adventure. Karen and I are packed, camera gear is packed (the most important) and even Sir Winston has his little overnight bag pack (red and green checkers). So Sir Winston is off on a home stay with a lovely family who are taking him on a farm stay for the weekend.
Karen and I will take our bags to the airport and get them wrapped then chill for the rest of the day.
See ya soon
A big travel day ahead of us, two flights, 17 hours! Movies and snacks!!
So on to the next step, all checked in and we are having a relaxing ale ready for the trip to Perth
We arrive at 5:00am to a cold Johannesburg. Our J’Burg guide, William, was there to meet us, and off we went to check into our accommodation, the quaint Sleep Eezy Cottages http://www.sleepeezy.co.za What a charming little B & B in the suburbs, very close to OR Tambo International Airport! Our lovely hosts, Moira and Lawrence, made us feel very welcome, even turning the heaters on in the rooms beforehand to make them warm and cosy. Moira and Lawrence put on a wonderful breakfast, after which we set off again with William on our day tour.
First stop was the Sterkfontein Caves. These caves form part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, and are world famous for their fossil finds. They are also home to hominid fossils, “Mrs Ples” and “Little Foot”, the latter being an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton dating back more than 3-million years. We navigated the 200 steps to descend down into the caves where we were rewarded with views of complex formations, fossils and an underground lake. It was a great experience!
Next stop was the Maropeng Visitor’s Centre (in the same site as the Sterkfontein Caves). Maropeng means ‘returning to the place of our ancestors’, and the Visitor’s Centre is designed to resemble a burial mound. The extensive modern exhibition takes an interactive approach to the history of life as we know it from the big bang to the evolution of humankind, the discovery of fire and the spread of people across continents. Our visit started with a fun boat ride through the ages before we entered the museum proper where we saw educational displays complemented by examples of the kinds of fossils and tools which have been found in the Cradle of Humankind.
Next stop was a late lunch at the Lion and Safari Park in Kalkheuvel. Very pleasant having a light lunch and beverage overlooking the giraffe enclosure. A couple of giraffes even stopped by and graced us with their presence!
Then on to our last stop for the day, the Lesedi Cultural Village, situated within the Cradle of Humankind site. We looked through the locals’ marketplace there and bought a few handmade crafts. We were then treated to a dance display, and lastly a fascinating insight into the cultures and traditions of the people of Africa, visiting five traditional homesteads inhabited by Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Basotho and Ndebele tribes who live according to tribal folklore and the traditions of their ancestors. It was most interesting. Norman ate a dried Mopani Worm (didn’t get the thumbs up)! After all this, we enjoyed some traditional African fare for dinner in their Nyama Choma restaurant. The buffet included such exotic dishes as crocodile, kudu, and staple sides including pap, creamed spinach and pumpkin.
HUGE day … we were constantly on the go since our arrival in J’Burg at 5:00am! Back to Sleep Eezy, and in bed at 10:30pm.
Started the day with a warm and hearty breakfast at the Sleep Eezy Cottages, compliments of Moira and Lawrence. At 9:00am we finally got to meet our safari guide Shaun Taylor who collected us in the VW minivan, ready for our travel day to Kruger. And so we headed off …
First stop was a mid-morning coffee break (with a twist) at the Alzu Petroport roadhouse en route. Shaun had told us there was a surprise in store there, and all would be revealed if we walked to the back of the complex and looked out the window. Well, we did as we were told, and lo and behold, had a fabulous view of a game enclosure containing six rhino, a large number of buffalo and a host of eland, blesbok, ostriches and even an emu or two! All owned by the service station!! Amazing! As Shaun said, this would be the precursor to our own safari adventures!
Then we hit the road again, with the next stop being the pretty, quaint town of Dullstroom. We stopped for the famous pancakes at Harrie’s Pancakes. Lovely! Di and I had a look in the cute art/craft shop next door where I spied a fabulous locally handcrafted wall hanging … $500 AUD! After our lovely pancakes we were off again in the direction of Kruger. The next part of the journey was a bit hair-raising as we traversed hills in the company of huge coal trucks and logging trucks, given that the area is home to many coal mines as well as pine tree plantations. Indeed the pine tree plantations stretch for miles and miles as this area in the Mpumalanga province is one of the largest afforested areas in South Africa (0.6 million hectares). We witnessed their dangerous driving on a whole new level, with a motorcyclist on our side of the road overtaking us plus a coal truck on a blind bend in the road, with another coal truck closing in on him from the oncoming traffic!! Suffice to say it was a close call!!
After a couple of hours we reached our accommodation, the lovely Kruger Park Lodge which is situated on a 9-hole Gary Player designed golf course on the banks of the Sabie River in Hazyview, Mpumalanga. Very nice! There were plenty of impala meandering around the golf course. Shaun took us to our 3-bedroom chalet within the lodge. Very nicely appointed! We deposited our bags then headed off to a Hazyview elephant sanctuary, Elephant Whispers. Elephant Whispers is home to six tamed and trained elephants who were rescued from planned game reserve culling operations by Elephants for Africa Forever (EFAF). As ambassadors for their species, this herd has an important conservation message to share. And the handlers are passionately dedicated to their charges, spending hours each day keeping the elephant company, walking together, cleaning their stables, collecting food and seeing to their medical needs. They are a closely bonded unit. We had an incredible experience there, being able to touch their biggest male elephant (Tembo), exchange trunk greetings and offer him tasty treats. It was amazing when he lay down and allowed us all to touch his ears, trunk and back. I could even feel his heart beating!! Just wonderful!
While we were at Elephant Whispers, Shaun went off to collect our safari vehicle. Upon his return, we had our first ride in our open safari vehicle, a Toyota Landrover, which would be our safari transportation for the next two days.
After Elephant Whispers we headed back to our chalet where we showered ready for dinner which was at G’s bistro, (shades of Griffith Uni!), in Hazyview. Shaun’s parents, Gary and Ros joined us. We had a lovely dinner, which ended with a local dessert treat, a Don Pedro, made with icecream and their creamy liqueur Amarula. Very decadent!
Off to bed at the Kruger Park Lodge.
Up early. Shaun collected us, and off we headed on our first safari day!! We were all very excited!
As we were leaving our lodge we even saw hippos and baboons alongside the Sabie River bordering the golf course! What a great start to the day! En route to the Phabeni Gate (where we were to enter Kruger National Park) we passed local school children making their way to school. We were so impressed with how impeccably dressed they all were … neat as a pin!
After a short drive we arrived at the Phabeni Gate.
Local entrepreneur, Patrick, had set up his mobile coffee station (complete with biscuits!) there at the gate, and Di obliged by buying a coffee. He too had made a good start to the day!
And so we made our way through the gate and into Kruger National Park … YAY!! Within 20 minutes we had our first sighting, a zebra!
Next was a baboon on the edge of the road, then Cape buffalo at a watering hole. Then … thrilling … a group of elephants on the side of the road!
Next was a white rhino … and so close to the edge of the road! He happily munched on the grass there, giving us a good 5 minutes to gape in awe of him!! Then, more zebras, giraffe, impala, ostriches (very rare) and vultures.
Then the pièce de résistance … an elephant family wanting to cross the road in front of us. So we stopped the vehicle, cut the engine and just sat there quietly. As the elephants moved about we could see they were shielding a special family member, a baby! Shaun estimated no more than a week old! As they were readying to cross, a vehicle coming from the opposite direction just kept driving through without stopping. So they retreated. And it left just us on the road. They prepared once again to cross … and we sat there in silence.
So they gathered around the baby, being careful to shield it, and crossed the road in front of us. Then they turned to look at us and made a gap in the group so we could get a good look at the baby! It was priceless … very special! It was as if they had rewarded us for our patience and sensitivity. A truly beautiful moment for us all!
After all this excitement it was the end of our morning safari. So we headed for brunch to the Cattle Baron restaurant at our next lodging, the Skukuza Rest Camp. NB: Skukuza means “man who changes everything” and is a reference to James Stevenson-Hamilton, the first warden of the Sabie Nature Reserve, who was perceived to sweep the land clean of poachers and other criminals operating in the area.We even toasted our first animal sightings with a bottle of champers! We deposited our belongings in our rooms, located in the Waterkant section of the lodgings. They overlooked the Sabie River and a bridge, providing us with a lovely outlook! Then we had a look through the shops adjoining the Cattle Baron.
Next … time for our afternoon safari. Sightings included giraffes, zebras, impala, warthogs, ground hornbills, lilac breasted rollers, wildebeest and elephants.
Following our afternoon safari it was time to enjoy sundowners at the Lake Panic hippo hide. So we set off with wine, beer and nibbles, and settled in at the hippo hide where we sat surreptitiously and observed the goings-on at the lake. A very peaceful environment where we spied hippos, a crocodile and numerous birds.
Then back to the Cattle Baron restaurant at our Skukuza Rest Camp lodging for dinner before turning in for the night.
Up early (5:00am) for our morning safari. Yet another clear day. And we’re off again …
Early sightings included giraffes, baboons, vervet monkeys, dwarf mongoose, Cape buffalo, elephants, elephants and more elephants!!
Amongst the elephant sightings, one was a group of elephants digging holes in the sand of a riverbed until they reached suitable water to drink. Apparently, some elephants don’t drink water from the river because they feel that the water is too dirty due to other animals swimming and urinating etc in that water.Thus they employ their own water filtration system … how clever!!
We basically followed the Sabie River to Lower Sabie, stopping at an interesting place called Sunset Dam where we saw a huge number of crocodiles basking at the water’s edge! I for one have never seen so many crocodiles congregated in the one place! And some of them were enormous!! We sat in the vehicle for a good 15 minutes just taking it all in, and having a good look at these amazing apex predators through the binoculars.
Next stop, brunch at Mugg and Bean at Lower Sabie Rest Camp. Well, this Mugg and Bean certainly has glorious views over the Sabie River, so we took in the panorama, and also enjoyed the company of numerous starlings and a barn owl! Then we were off again on safari! Sightings this time included elephants, giraffes, zebras … and … incredibly … a lioness!! Steve was the A1 lion spotter, seeing this beauty sunning herself on a sandbank in the river. So we sat and soaked up the thrill of seeing our first lion in the wild! It was all up to Norman to get the ace photos!
Then it was back to the Skukuza Rest Camp where we had a short “rest period” (during which Steve & Di saw hippos coming out of the water … all viewable from our rooms!) Then it was off to the Lake Panic hippo hide again. Hippos were there again … and Norman got his “hippo with open mouth” shot … YAY!! However this time we were also treated to the sight of an African fish eagle taking an African jacana!
We then headed back to our lodging, where we had dinner at the Cattle Baron again (with some repeat orders of last night’s meals). After dinner we enjoyed our “bush TV”(that is, our camp fire). It was just lovely sitting around the fire with a beverage in hand, recounting our wonderful adventures. Heather definitely had the winning tale though – her “toy”story!! Nothing could beat that!!
Time for bed …
Once again we were excited for the day ahead as we were headed to the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve where we would be treated to a very private, exclusive safari experience! The Klaserie Private Nature Reserve is a 148,000 acre private conservancy that is open to Kruger National Park, allowing animals to roam freely. However visitor numbers are strictly limited providing a more intimate exclusive experience, and walks are permitted in the bush (if accompanied by an accredited guide)! It is one of the most unspoilt reserves in the area, being fiercely focused on nature conservation and low-impact tourism. Bring on the day!!!
We set off singing ‘He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands’!! And in the first sunlight of the day, while we were still in Kruger National Park, we saw giraffes, zebras, and elephants.
And our last sighting before exiting the Phabeni Gate was a herd of about 100 Cape buffalo. They were alongside the road grazing, and looking to cross the road. So we stopped dead in our tracks, cut the engine, and just sat there silently. And the buffalo came!! They virtually surrounded our vehicle in their quest to cross the road. I will never forget the sounds of them, in great numbers, munching the grass at the road’s edge! That was a highlight for me … truly awesome!
We then headed back to Hazyview where we firstly stopped in at G’s Bistro for brunch (Shaun’s dad, Gary, joined us), after which we changed over the safari vehicle to a minivan for the trip to the Klaserie. Then it was off to the local shopping mall to buy a SIM card. Done! And we’re off again!
En route we passed through rural townships like Bushbuckridge where it was interesting to see the local folk going about their day-to-day life. Such creative spirit roadside with a car wash involving buckets of water and rags, and plenty of elbow grease!! Once again, we encountered plenty of coal trucks and logging trucks on the road.
After about 2 hours travelling, we arrived at the Klaserie HQ (basically the entrance to the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve) where two safari vehicles awaited us. We met our trusty tracker, Wiseman, who would be Shaun’s aide for the next three days. And so we changed over to the Range Rover with Shaun, while Wiseman took all our bags in the other vehicle. Off we went! Straight away this is quite different to Kruger in that there is really only one sealed road through the reserve. All the safaris will be off-road on dirt/rock tracks. Fabulous!
And so we hit the tracks! Bush bashing our way through the scrub, we negotiated a rocky mound before … lo and behold … there was our private lodge, Nyeleti! Literally out in the middle of the African bush with nothing around it for miles was this incredible luxury accommodation surrounded by manicured lawns, all with a view of the Klaserie River!!
It took our breath away, a real oasis! Nyeleti comprised six twin-bed thatched roof rondavels (African round houses), luxuriously appointed with quality furnishings, mosquito nets, and ensuites featuring claw baths. Our rondavel was called ‘Joao’ in memory of much loved local elephant, Joao, who roamed the area from 1939 to 2000. The property also featured a common lounge and indoor dining room, lovely al fresco dining area, braai and fire area, and a splash pool. All exclusively to ourselves!!
Shaun introduced us to our private chef, Lindsay, who would be preparing all our meals for the three days. We were gobsmacked at the whole arrangement! Lindsay had lunch prepared for us … we all loved her salad, most especially her homemade dressing. After lunch and a short rest time, we headed off on our afternoon safari. Sightings included giraffe, hyena, waterbuck and impala. And because we were in the private reserve, we could leave the vehicle, meaning we could enjoy our first real African bush sundowners! A fantastic treat!
Then it was back to our beautiful lodging for a “Lindsay” dinner of chicken curry, roti and samosas, after which we sat round the camp fire and revisited our stunning day!
Yet another stunning day in Africa!! Awoke to clear blue skies – perfect weather!
Off on our morning safari … Sightings included giraffe, a lone bull elephant, and a group of three white rhino! All the while, Shaun is keenly tracking lion and leopard so is stopping the vehicle from time to time and getting out to inspect the animal tracks. And it’s walking day … YAY!! So after a safety briefing from Shaun, we headed off, in single file between Shaun and Wiseman, for our bush walk! It was great to actually be able to walk out in the bush and feel a part of it. On our walk we sighted warthogs, Sharpe’s Grysbok, and impala.
Then it was back to camp for lunch. Lindsay’s lunch today was frittata, macaroni and cheese, and a favourite with the group … salad and homemade dressing. Then it was two hours of free time at our lovely lodging where it was wonderful to just relax and immerse ourselves in our surroundings. Even during the rest period, we managed to see, from the luxury of our lodgings, elephant, giraffe and two waterbuck! I must say this incredible place made me feel like Karen Blixen in ‘Out of Africa’! This quote from her famous tome sums it up – “The views were immensely wide. Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.”
Then at 3:00pm we were off on our afternoon safari where we came across a hippo skull and sundry other animal bones. Di was in her element, wishing she could take them home!!
About 5:00pm we stopped and set up for sundowners at (what I coined) “Pride Rock”. It was stunning watching an African sunset from our elevated viewpoint. What could be better than being out in the African bush watching the sun paint the sky iridescent red and orange, all the while having a glass of red in hand! I don’t believe it gets much better than that!!
We continued on in safari mode, with the sun now set. So it was time for our first night safari which involved Wiseman using the spotlight and his incredible tracking skills to spot wildlife under the cover of darkness. No mean feat!! Not long into our night safari we were rewarded with an incredible sighting, a gigantic white rhino! It was so big that a number of us thought it was an elephant at first glance! Shaun was even pretty stunned. Continuing on we saw warthogs, bushbabies, civets, and a large female hyena.
All the while we were still on the hunt for the elusive big cats which the tracks seemed to suggest were off in another area that Shaun hadn’t navigated before. So, Shaun and Wiseman swapped places as Wiseman knew that area and track. Shaun then sat in the tracker seat up-front, and Wiseman took over driving duties.
No lions tonight, we’ll be back on the case tomorrow! We made our way back to camp where the camp fire was roaring, and Lindsay had readied everything for our South African braai (BBQ). Our feast included Cajun chicken, Lindsay’s yummy homemade sausages (made from fillet steak), pork ribs, corn, and a lovely beetroot and feta salad. Shaun cooked the braai, which we all savoured.
Another fabulous day done and dusted!