Sadly it’s time to leave the Delta, and make our way back to Johannesburg.
After a full cooked breakfast, we walked the 5 minutes to the adjacent airstrip where we waited for our aircraft to arrive. First to leave were Heather and Garv in a Cessna. Then it was our turn. Di, Steve, Norman and I boarded our GA8 Airvan which was under the control of Captain Nick and a trainee co-pilot. I unfortunately couldn’t snare a seat up the front this time … damn! But wow, this aircraft was positively luxurious compared to the Cessna 206 that transported us into the Delta! For a start, this was an 8-seater, and it had larger windows, a centre aisle, and a sliding door. Woo hoo!
And we were off, headed back to Kasane. From a 9,000-foot vantage point where I could take in a panorama of this unique landscape, I could understand how the Okavango Delta just got added as the 1,000th entry on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It is an extraordinary piece of the world indeed!
After a 1 hour 20 minute flight, we landed in Kasane. We were met by a Wild Horizons driver charged with driving us to the Botswana/Zimbabwe border. And so we made another border crossing at the Kazangula Border Post where we were then met by driver Emmanuel who would transfer us to the Victoria Falls airport. Emmanuel was an enthusiastic, funny guy who looked a bit like Bob Marley! During our drive he regaled us with stories about his wife who is a hairdresser. Given his penchant for all things “hair”, he was pretty taken with my hair, and shared hairdressing tips with me during our trip! How hilarious … traversing African outposts with a Zimbabwean “Bob Marley look-alike” giving me advice on colouring my hair!! Just prior to arriving in Victoria Falls, we had to stop and let a male elephant cross the road in front of us! I will miss this so much!!
We arrived at Victoria Falls airport well in advance of our 13:55 departure time. So we had lunch at a nice café in the terminal. And I had a little look around the shops, stopping to buy a bottle of Amarula for just $6 AUD! I will miss that too!! And I’m still kicking myself for not buying the bronze vuvuzela I saw in a gift shop there … damn!!
Then it was time for our flight back to Johannesburg, a short 1.5 hour British Airways flight. We landed in Johannesburg about 4:00pm, and made our way to the City Lodge Hotel which is attached to the airport. After checking in, we had showers, then headed downstairs to the lobby to meet up with our safari guide Shaun. How wonderful that he brought along his gorgeous wife Andrea, as well as his parents, Ros and Gary. It was so lovely to get together and recap our extraordinary two weeks of safari adventures. We presented Shaun with his “Giraffe Dude” thank you card, had “Three Leaping Leopard Ladies” photos with him, then said our goodbyes. Hugs all round! It was sad in a sense because it closed the chapter on the safari segment of our holiday. But what an incredible, out-of-this world fortnight it was!! Truly unforgettable!
A sleep in til 6:30am!! Our lovely wake-up call was KT bringing our tea/coffee! Next was a continental breakfast, including freshly made muffins. Then it was off in the motor boat to Chief’s Island for a bush walk. How nice it was to walk in the Delta scrub, taking in the sights, sounds and smells all around us. Guide Mots and assistant guide, Case, led us on our 2.5 hour trek, during which we took in many glorious sights – elephants, zebras, warthogs, buffalo, red lechwe, baboons and vervet monkeys, along with gigantic termite mounds.
Mots also imparted fascinating facts about our surroundings:
– The wild sage and basil that are rampant in the area are used by local tribes to make natural medicines
– Trunks from the Jackalberry, Sausage and Mangosteen trees used to be hollowed out to build the unique ‘mokoro’ (dug-out canoe). Modern mokoro are made from moulded fibreglass
– Terminalia trees are used to fashion the mokoro poles
– The fibre from “Vegetable ivory” palm trees is used to make baskets
– During drought conditions, an impala will eat the poison apples that grow in the area to abort their unborn foetus
How wonderful to learn about these symbiotic relationships that exist in the African bush.
It was then back in the boat to head back to camp. On the way, we passed a group of 6 male elephants munching in the reeds … they were so close we could almost touch them!
Once back at the camp, we sat down for a lovely lunch of sesame beef stir fry and salads. During lunch we met two new camp guests, a nice Swiss couple. It was then rest time, during which I sat upstairs in the Buffalo Bar and wrote my diary. Norman was at our “room” when he spied a giant monitor lizard (circa 5-foot), clambering up on to our deck. It all happened so quickly that by the time he grabbed his camera, the lizard had disappeared.
At 3:00pm it was afternoon tea time, after which we set off for our mokoro ride. The mokoro is a traditional canoe-like vessel commonly used in the Okavango Delta as a popular mode of transport, and now utilised for game viewing safaris. It has become the iconic symbol of the Delta. The mokoro are kept at Moremi Crossing, another larger camp, so we headed off in that direction. After about 10 minutes we reached the camp, and hopped into our mokoro. Each mokoro holds up to two passengers, plus the boat-man (poler) who stands at the stern using a long pole called a “ngashi”, to pole or push the mokoro forward. Poling is a lifelong skill that is perfected, and one which is held in high esteem in the community.
Off we set in our mokoro with our poler, Mots, gliding silently through the Delta waterways.
It was a very tranquil experience … sitting back relaxing as the water bubbled gently under the mokoro while Mots pointed out the abundant fauna and flora. Sightings included water lilies (locals eat the flowers), an abundance of birdlife, tiny brightly coloured frogs, and hippos that were oblivious to us.
After our glorious mokoro experience we swapped back to our motor boat at Moremi Crossing then set off for our last sunset viewing in the Delta. We made our way to Chief’s Island where we had sundowners, toasting our magnificent Botswana sunset. Then it was back to camp, with sightings en route that included hippos, elephants, birds, and a gigantic crocodile sunning himself.
Back at camp we showered, freshened up and headed to dinner (our last in the Delta). New guests, Florian and Julian, joined us. Once again we had pre-dinner drinks, and we cracked open our favourite, the lovely local Amurela. Sitting around the campfire, Vicky ushered us to form one straight row with our seats. She had a surprise for us! After a few minutes all the staff appeared … and started singing! They entertained us with traditional songs, and dancing. Heather and I even joined in the dancing! Then they delivered a stirring rendition of the Botswana national anthem. It was most moving! After this wonderful surprise, they asked if we had a song to sing. Well, yes we did!! Heather, in her inimitable fashion, had geed up all the guests to sing “Row, Row, Row your Boat” in four-part harmony. And so we did!! All the guests joined in … and the staff thought it was terrific!
Then it was off to dinner … The menu tonight was cream of potato soup, choice of kudu or chicken, and vegetables. Dessert was a toffee slice. It was a fantastic night, and made for a perfect end to our Okavango Delta experience.
This is indeed a place I will never ever forget!
Our last day in Chobe as we are off to the Okavango Delta today! As ever, we were up in time for our early morning game drive in the NP. On a side note, good to see that my early morning nail filing antics (those damn ragged nails) were a source of amusement (and probably bewilderment) for Chobe safari-goers in a nearby vehicle!!
WOO HOO … a good omen … we were the first vehicle in the park! After entering the park we revelled in a spectacular sunrise. The sun ever so gradually lit up the sky in vibrant oranges and reds. Haskins asked what sighting we most wanted today … we answered “a herd of 300 elephants”!! Not much to ask for!! First sighting was a wake of vultures picking at the remnants of a carcass.
We then followed the track beside the river where we were treated to the glorious sight of a huge herd of Cape Buffalo making their way from the riverbank to the track ahead of us. They were accompanied by a small number of elephants
What a glorious sight in the first golden sunlight of the day! We then made our way back up to the main track where Haskins stepped out of the vehicle to more closely inspect the animal tracks. He determined they were fresh lion tracks … and so the hunt was on! Then … as if on cue … we encountered our beauties!
Two lionesses, one at the edge of the road, and the other right in the middle of the road! What an incredible start to the day! Haskins stopped the vehicle, cut the engine, and we just sat there quietly taking in these two beauties. We were so close to them! While we sat there, some of the Cape Buffalo herd we had seen down at the riverbank came up the track behind our vehicle. Well, the lions by this time had made their way alongside the track, and were headed towards the buffalo. And so it was … we sat there watching and waiting … the buffalo were out in a clearing, while a male lion had made his way behind some bushes quite close to the buffalo. I started recording with the video camera because I felt something was about to happen. In the next instant the lion appeared from behind the bushes, and was only metres away from one of the buffalo. It was a staring contest, a real “Mexican standoff”, the likes of which I’ve never seen before!! After just a few seconds, buffalo “reinforcements” appeared, and the lion quietly retreated.
Crisis averted for that buffalo!! And I captured it on video! The thrill of life in the African bush! We continued on following the lions, and actually got ahead of them on the track we were negotiating. It was incredible to hear (and see) baboons going ballistic in the trees, alerting the surrounding wildlife to the approaching lions. The amazing early warning systems of the African bush!! Next stop was morning tea, at the “designated” rest area.
It was there where we presented Haskins with a card and Aussie souvenir to say thank you. He was quite overwhelmed, saying it was the first time in four years he had been “officially” thanked by clients. We then headed back to our lodge where we had breakfast and checked out. And … Heather’s binoculars were located … and returned by Bushtracks Botswana!
We were collected by a driver who transported us the short distance to the Kasane International Airport, ready for our charter flight to the Okavango Delta. The Kasane International Airport, a typical ramshackle regional airport, is undergoing a mega makeover with the unveiling of a new ultra-modern terminal which could be seen adjacent to the current one. It looks wonderful, and will help foster increased tourism in the region. Going through the security check at the airport, the security officer asked to see what was in my backpack. I duly complied, opening my bag. She asked to see the pump spray I had in there. It was heavy-duty insect repellent, and was the only one I had packed, given our tight baggage allowance for the charter aircraft. Turned out it was over 100ml so … in an instant … it was gone! No more insect repellent! Anyway, there was no time to cry over spilt milk as we were ushered towards the tarmac where our aircraft were waiting. Cessna 206s (6-seaters)!! Was pretty apprehensive as I had never flown in a light aircraft before! Captain Mark introduced himself, and Heather, Garv, Norman and I took our seats on board. I got to sit up front with Captain Mark! Di and Steve boarded the second aircraft. And off we set on our 1 hour 10 minute flight. I must say the views of the changing landscapes, from our cruising altitude of 8,000 feet, were fabulous. The grasslands of Kasane made way for the riverine woodlands of Chobe Forest Reserve, then finally the flood plains and marshlands of the Okavango Delta. We even spotted big game from the air – elephants, hippos and buffalo.
Upon touching down on the dirt airstrip beside our lodge, Gunns Camp, we were met by camp staff who escorted us the short distance to our new ‘home’ in the delta where we were even treated to a traditional welcome of song and dance. We were then shown our “rooms”, 6 x rustic style tents, each featuring a bedroom, ensuite bathroom with standalone bath, and an outside private shower. All set on raised platforms overlooking the delta plains, so that we could take in the sights and sounds of the wilderness from our very own abode. Talk about a slice of heaven! The whole camp only accommodates a maximum of 12 guests so the experience is a wonderful private one, set right on the swamp. And no wireless or phone reception!! How glorious … so remote and disconnected from the world! Our camp manager Vicky showed us to the dining room where a light lunch awaited. The dining room and adjacent Buffalo Bar commanded magnificent views overlooking Chief’s Island. After lunch, we had a 2-hour rest period, after which we enjoyed afternoon tea. Then at 3:30pm our guide Mots took us on a motor boat sunset cruise, where we navigated the crystal clear channels of the Boro River. We spotted hippos, elephants, and a myriad of birdlife.
Then we enjoyed sundowners while drifting on a lagoon in the middle of the delta. It doesn’t get much better than this!!
We then motored back to camp where we had showers, ready for dinner. NB: You know you’re far from civilisation when you have to wait to be escorted to the dining room due to the possible presence of wild animals (house rules … after dark you cannot move around the camp without a guide)!
We enjoyed pre-dinner drinks in the Buffalo Bar upstairs, before retiring to the dining room. In total there were twelve of us around the long dining table, the six in our party, plus four other guests (two couples), plus the manager Vicky and guide Mots. The dinner table was beautifully set, and our meal was lovely … butternut pumpkin soup, choice of hake or stuffed chicken, and vegetables. Dessert was a homemade chocolate mousse. All delicious! And to top it all off, we were paid a visit by resident hippo, Tino, who came right up to the railing beside the lower deck dining room and snorted at us a few times!!
After dinner we were escorted back to our “rooms” where we found the ‘bush babies’ (hot water bottles) the staff had kindly put in our beds for the evening.
What a spectacular day, our first in the delta! Love this remote pristine wilderness!!
Up early for our first game drive in Chobe National Park!
Met our enthusiastic safari guide, Haskins, and off we went. His first question to us was “what game do you want to see?” to which we all replied “lions!!” Within no time we were at the main Chobe NP gate, where a 4WD sporting a warning sign “Snakes in Transit” stopped next to us. Sure fire way to ensure people keep their distance!
Well, within 5 minutes of entering the park, we were on the trail of a pride of lions! Haskins notched it up a gear … he was rally driving! It was like he we were suddenly in the Dakar rally! We were holding on for dear life!! Then … the special moment … we saw the pride we were chasing – two male lions and three lionesses!!! Unbelievable … we were thrilled!! We just sat there gobsmacked at the majesty of these incredible creatures.
They casually set off on the track, and we were able to follow them for about half an hour. How amazing! Haskins had delivered on our special request! We continued on following the lions, and actually got ahead of them on the track we were negotiating. It was incredible to hear (and see) baboons going ballistic in the trees, alerting the surrounding wildlife to the approaching lions. The amazing early warning systems of the African bush!!Continuing on, we encountered a journey of giraffes. Yes, that’s right, “journey” is the collective noun for a group of travelling giraffes! After seeing giraffes up close and personal in the African bush I now call them the ‘catwalk models’ of the animal kingdom! They are so tall and elegant.
On our safari continued, and we were spoilt with many game sightings which included vultures, Cape buffalo, baboons, warthogs, kudu, impala, hippos (out of the water!), and pukus. By a sheer stroke of Iuck I managed to get a photo of a kudu mid-leap, crossing directly in front of our vehicle.
Our morning safari finished at 9:30am, after which we headed to the lodge restaurant for breakfast. We just made it in time. While enjoying breakfast we had a close encounter with a baboon who swooped in, lightning-fast, and grabbed a handful of sugar sachets from the middle of our table! Heather then organised with the Tour Desk for us to do a “local Kasane sights” tour with our fun guide, Haskins. As such a tour didn’t exist, Haskins would especially tailor something for us!! It would commence at 11:30am. Norman elected to stay at the lodge so he could work on some photos (big job!). The five of us headed off with Haskins for his personalised tour of Kasane and surrounds.
Stop 1: The Kasane Police Station where the historical Kasane Prison Baobab Postal Tree stands. The 3,000-year old tree was used as a gaol before modern prisons were built, and it also served as a place where mail was collected and disseminated throughout the Chobe region and beyond.
Stop 2: Kasane Primary School. With the local children in class, Haskins took us into the school and introduced us to the principal. She ushered us into the grade 2 classroom and introduced us to the teacher. She in turn asked the children to greet us in their best English! They all sat up pin-straight and, in beautiful harmony, said “good morning”! The teacher told us to ask the children questions and converse with them, as she wanted them to practice their English. And so we did! We asked their names, and I asked who had seen a lion, to which most of them put up their hand! The children were all so happy, with big smiles on their faces! This was a truly wonderful experience, one that money couldn’t buy!
Stop 3: Haskins’own home, where he introduced us to his sister and her baby, along with his two brothers, and even the dog! It was so lovely to meet his family, and he told us afterwards that we were the first white people ever to visit his home.
Note: En route to Haskins’home, we drove past the Mandela Pub (popular local hangout) and Haskins’church where he spends all day every Sunday (the services are day-long gatherings). He also pointed out to us a long concrete path the local government had laid for the townsfolk to more easily access the town centre. This seemingly had been a very welcome initiative. And in the next breath he casually told us that elephants freely roam through the town! Be on the lookout!
Stop 4: The Kasane Hot Springs. The warm and salty waters of this natural spring are believed to hold medicinal powers. Haskins informed us that people travel from far and wide to collect water from the hot springs which they often take back to their local churches for healing ceremonies.
Stop 5: Africa’s ‘Four Corners’, the meeting point for four countries – Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This is also the confluence of two major rivers, the Chobe and the Zambezi. The Kazungula Ferry operates here, ferrying trucks and other vehicles between Botswana and Zambia. Well … what a hectic border crossing, with trucks lined up for kilometres on either side of the Zambezi! We were told the drivers sometimes have to wait up to two weeks to cross the river! Good news … a bridge is being built! At a cost of US $234 million, the Kazungula Bridge is under construction, with an estimated completion date of 2020. It will alleviate these transportation woes.
Haskins had a surprise for us … his tour company, Bushtracks Botswana, also had a motorised pontoon which they operated on the Zambezi. Haskins had organised for another Bushtracks Botswana guide to take us across the river to Zambia! So we hopped on board and set sail the short distance of 400 metres, then disembarked on Zambian soil! We had crossed the border and entered a fourth country on our African travels! We naturally got a cheeky photo, then quickly got back in the boat. We then travelled upstream a little so that we met up with the intersection of the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers. Haskins proceeded to tell us that this place is sacred to the African people, and that he himself felt a spiritual connection with that place in the river.
En route back to the lodge, we saw a police radar set up on a tripod. Back to the future!! We arrived back at the lodge at 1:45pm, with just enough time to eat lunch. Proceeded to tell Norman all about our “local Kasane sights” tour – he was beside himself that he hadn’t joined us.
At 3:00pm it was time for our afternoon game drive, with Haskins again. We were making a firm friend in Haskins. He was enthusiastic, fun, and, revelled in showing us the best of what was on offer in Kasane and beyond. Before we even entered the National Park, we had to stop on the main road out of Kasane to give way to a group of elephants wanting to cross. We happily obliged, appreciating the moment as ever. Then, once inside in the NP, we sighted hippos … and Norman got an even better “hippo with open mouth” shot!
Sightings then included honey badgers, vultures, a pack of jackals, guinea fowl, large herd of Cape buffalo, and giraffes.
Our last sighting for the day was a pretty amazing one! After spotting a number of vultures circling in one particular spot, we made our way there to investigate. Well, there was a wake (yes, that’s the collective noun!) of vultures feeding on a fresh impala carcass! There were masses of them … in a feeding frenzy!! And while we watched on, a pack of jackals joined in.
End of safari, so we headed back to the lodge where we had pre-dinner drinks at the cocktail bar while taking in yet another exquisite African sunset. Then it was off to dinner in the restaurant.
Bedtime … after a HUGE day!
A sleep-in day!
As we are not being collected until 11:00am, we have the morning to ourselves. We enjoyed a buffet breakfast at the Kingdom Hotel, after which I sat in the restaurant overlooking the water courses, and wrote my travel diary (I had a bit of updating to do). After an hour or so I wanted to stretch my legs so went for a bit of a walk around the hotel water courses, and did a double-take when I saw a sign that read “This lake is a natural water habitat and could contain small crocodiles. Children playing around the lake need parental guidance.” Now that’s something you don’t see every day!!
We packed, checked out, and our Wild Horizons driver duly picked us up to head to Chobe National Park in Botswana. Our first stop though would be the border crossing at Kazangula where there are two border controls, one for Zimbabwe and one for Botswana. We would have to exit Zimbabwe at the first control, then enter Botswana at the second. We would have to also change drivers and transfer from our vehicle to another on the Botswana side. It all went pretty smoothly, even though it was something of an eye-opener. I needed to use the restrooms there, and they were definitely an eye-opener! All I can say is lucky I had tissues!!! Once we successfully passed through the border controls, we were off in the direction of a town called Kasane which borders Chobe National Park. Our first stop there was a ‘budget’ lodging to drop off two other Wild Horizons tourists who had travelled from Zimbabwe to Botswana in our minivan. Well … our group all looked at each other, supremely grateful we had Shaun to organise all our accommodation as the ‘budget’ place looked decidedly dodgy!! And on we went, travelling through the bustling township of Kasane to reach our accommodation, the Chobe Safari Lodge. Once again, lovely accommodation, situated right on the banks of the Chobe River. The restaurant, cocktail bar, and our River Rooms all had views over the river. Being about 1:30pm when we arrived, we enjoyed the buffet lunch once we dropped our bags in our rooms. After lunch, it was time for our sunset river cruise on the Chobe River. This time the boat was right at our doorstep … literally! We could simply walk down the boardwalk which ran from the restaurant to a small pier, and then hop on board. Not quite the intimate cruise we had experienced on the Zambezi as this boat was pretty full. It did have an open upper deck though where the crew limited passenger numbers. This made for a fabulous way to view the wildlife! Not long after we set off, we spotted a crocodile sunning itself on the banks of the river. Then in the lush green plains of Sedudu Island (viewable from our craft), we saw numerous elephants. Other sightings included Cape buffalo, hippos, impala, fish eagles, kingfishers, kudu, kori bustard (the national bird of Botswana), and Egyptian geese. And plenty of elephants munching the long marsh grass!
After all this glorious wildlife viewing, we witnessed a most stunning sunset as the sky and water magically changed colour to vibrant red, gold and tangerine. Breathtaking!
Once back at the safari lodge, we had lovely pre-dinner drinks in Di and Steve’s room. Di treated us to Amurela (quickly becoming one of my favourite drinks!). We also planned the next day, deciding we would ask if we could swap the boat cruise for a game drive. That would mean we would have two game drives, one in the early morning, and another in the late afternoon. We also thought we would inquire as to whether we could have a “local Kasane sights” tour in the middle of the day (between the two game drives). BIG day coming up!! Then it was off to dinner, our first ‘round table’ dinner. Worked a treat!
End of our first day in Botswana …
First up was a beautiful buffet breakfast in our lovely Kingdom Hotel.
Then we were off with our guide Lavelle on a walking tour of Victoria Falls, through the rainforest. He drove us to a spot about 10 minutes away from the hotel where we commenced the walk. We had been warned we would get wet (in fact soaking wet) due to the spray from the falls, so we all had rain ponchos however the guide also gave us raincoats which were fairly heavy duty. I had also suggested Norman not bring his camera gear (to which he duly complied).
Off we set on foot, through the lush rainforests that surround Victoria Falls. We took in the sights of the falls however sometimes (due to the volume of spray), it was complete white-out! It was fantastic though to get an up-close look at the rocky gorges that serve as steep channels for the Zambezi River, as well as Devil’s Cataract (the lowest point of the falls) and Main Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and Rainbow Falls. And we saw the statue of David Livingstone, the intrepid explorer who discovered these falls in 1855 and named them after Queen Victoria. And yes, the parts of our bodies/clothing that were not covered by our raincoats did get soaking wet! After our walk, we had coffee at the Rainforest Café at the falls, and I bought a Christmas ornament in the souvenir shop there.
After getting changed, we were out the front of the hotel when a Zimbabwean troupe sprang into action with their high-energy song and dance numbers. Well … Heather and I … never to let an opportunity like that pass us by … joined in!! They even adorned us with their tribal head dresses, then it was on! Then Steve joined in as well for a rendition of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’! It was all happening! After all that … what can I say but Heather’s high kicks are amazing!!!
After our song and dance fun, it was off to walk across the Victoria Falls Bridge. So off we headed in the direction of the bridge. Unsure of exactly how to get there, I suggested we take a path off the main route. Wrong move (it was the wrong path)! Within minutes, we were surrounded by local hawkers with their wares … and they kept coming! Then, seemingly from out of nowhere, an official ran in and forced the hawkers away. Turns out he was a member of the Zimbabwe Tourist Police whose job it is to provide security for tourists, and offer assistance in these types of situations. Anyway, he not only did that, but continued to escort us (on the correct path) towards the bridge. We made our way to the bridge, which also doubles as a border crossing because it connects Zimbabwe and Zambia. Because we were only walking the bridge, we were able to simply get a free bridge pass. Easy process! And we reached the bridge.
Opened in 1905, it was the inspiration of Cecil Rhodes. It was constructed in England by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company, then shipped to the Mozambique port of Beira, and then railed up to Victoria Falls. In a feat of Victorian engineering, the bridge took just 14 months to build. From the bridge, the views of the falls and gorge were wonderful. One can bungee jump from the bridge, the 111 metres to the Batoka Gorge below!! We watched some daredevils do just that, then on we forged. By this time it was about 1:30pm so we headed to the Lookout Café for lunch, just down from the bridge. Perched 120 metres above the rapids of the Zambezi River, the café has spectacular views of the Batoka Gorge and the other activities that place there – the gorge swing and zip line. So we watched, with a bevy in hand, the brave punters that took on those challenges! Talk about a lunch with a million dollar view (even though they were a bit slow on bringing the meals)! Memory jog for Di, Heather and I: The stunning natural stone basins in the ladies restroom! And Heather struck her “no rhino is safe” pose!!!
After lunch we walked back to the Kingdom Hotel, in readiness for our afternoon sunset river cruise on the Zambezi River. We were collected by our Wild Horizons guide who took us to the river to meet up with our boat. On the way he stopped to show us a famous tree, ‘The Big Tree’, which is one of the world’s biggest baobab trees. People believe it is over 1,000 years old. The tree is 20 metres high and an incredible 18 metres in circumference.
As a side note, while we stopped there at the roadside, local hawkers seemingly sprang up out of nowhere, and came to the windows of our minivan, trying to sell their wares. I was fascinated to see that, after we said no and they retreated, they buried their wares under the ground surrounding the bushes there. I guess it saves them having to haul their wares around all the time!
We then arrived at the boat. Fabulous … it was a small group this day! There were only about another 10 people on the boat so it was nice and intimate. The cruise included all drinks so they brought out our wine and beer, and we set sail. Sightings included hippos, elephants, a crocodile, and even hang gliders! A real treat was seeing three elephants having a private pool party in the river! Wonderful! The cruise was lovely and relaxing, topped off with a gorgeous sunset.
After the cruise, we were dropped back at the Kingdom Hotel where we showered and changed. Then we walked down the road to the majestic Victoria Falls Hotel where we had drinks on Stanley’s Terrace. During daylight hours the Terrace has a view of the falls in the distance. Norman ordered a Scotch on the rocks and was duly served a 25-year old Scotch (at $30 a pop!) Di and I ordered Amurela, which had become my new favourite cream liqueur. Lovely pre-dinner drinks.
Then we headed off for dinner. Feeling like something a bit lighter, we went in search of pizza. After passing on Pizza Inn (fast food place!), we ended up at the Shearwater Café in the main street. And yes, thankfully they had pizza! So it was pizza all round, accompanied by house wine at $3.00 a glass! Pizza was good and so was the wine! And I loved the background music – old jazz standards from the 20’s and 30’s! Side note: Di and I saw the poster advertising cage diving with the crocs … game on!!!
Signing off another big day! Off to bed at the Kingdom Hotel …
Up early in anticipation of our trip today to Victoria Falls!
After a hearty breakfast, we said our goodbyes to Moira and Lawrence. Shaun arrived to collect us, and we were off to OR Tambo International Airport to fly to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Our loads were a bit lighter as we had just one duffle bag each! Shaun kindly agreed to store the remainder of our belongings/suitcases at his home until we met up again in a week’s time. And we were off … Zimbabwe here we come!
After only a relatively short flight (1.5 hours), we touched down in Victoria Falls at about 1:00pm. We then queued and waited 1 hour for our visas to be processed. By the time our visas were finalised, we were the last passengers to clear the terminal (ours were the last bags on the baggage carousel!). NB. Just have to make mention of a Zimbabwean Government sign at the airport that stated “It is a criminal offence in Zimbabwe to make any derogatory or insulting comments about President Mugabe. Any person making such comments is liable to arrest and prosecution.”
A representative from our tour company, Wild Horizons, met us at the terminal and took us to our awaiting minivan (after local dance troupe stationed at the airport terminal entrance welcomed us to Zimbabwe!). Once in the minivan, we met our Tour Director, Charles (who reminded me of Bob Marley). Turned out Charles has a degree in mathematics, and is fluent in five languages (two being European)! And we were off to our hotel. En route, we passed one form of local transport, a donkey cart. And saw other townsfolk transporting all their food and belongings (some pretty heavy loads) on their bicycles. Talking to Charles on the way to our hotel, we asked about activities for later in the afternoon as we had a 2-3 hour window of opportunity before our BOMA dinner that evening. I specifically asked about the Victoria Falls helicopter rides I had read about beforehand. He said yes, we could likely get booked on that at about 4:00pm, and said he would make a call to confirm. Di and Steve didn’t want to do it, however Heather and Garv were keen … and so it was done! We were all confirmed to do our helicopter flights over the Victoria Falls … at $150 per person! YAY, what a thrill!!
We then arrived at our accommodation, the amazing Kingdom Hotel, which featured great domes, pillars, and bridges over its many water features. The architecture was designed to resemble that of the city of Munhumutapa, the once mighty capital of the ancient Shona Kingdom. Reminiscent of ‘Indiana Jones’! We basically had time to check in, deposit our bags, have a quick look around, then it was off for our helicopter ride. While Heather, Garv, Norman and I would be off on the helicopter, Di and Steve were going to indulge in high tea at the renowned Victoria Falls Hotel, a magnificent colonial hotel built in 1904.
Let’s experience Victoria Falls … Firstly, some impressive stats about these falls …
Victoria Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. 1800 metres wide, and 108 metres high, it’s one and a half times wider than Niagara Falls and is twice the height making it the biggest curtain of water in the world. A million litres of water per second are funnelled over the 108 metre drop, creating a plume of spray that can sometimes be seen as far away as 50 kilometres. Understandably it is known as “Mosi oa Tunya” (“the smoke that thunders”)!
And we were off to Bonisair Helicopters for our ‘Livingstone’s Angels Flight’. Once there, we sat through our safety briefing, after which we were weighed, then it was on board! Norman and I had our flight first. With experienced Rhodesian pilot, Tom, at the controls, we were up and away. Well … words can’t describe the jaw-dropping sight of these breathtaking falls from our vantage point where we could take in the whole panorama! The sheer size and magnificence of the falls was a thing to behold! And our day was beautiful and sunny with clear views so we were even treated to rainbows when viewing the falls! Utterly superb, and worth every cent!!
Then it was back to base for Heather and Garv to have their turn.
After both flights were finished, Norman and I bought videos of the flights from Bonisair as a memory of our wonderful experience. We were on such a high!!
Then it was back to the Kingdom Hotel where we showered, changed and all met up again, ready for our traditional BOMA dinner. We were collected by a Wild Horizons guide and driven the 20 minutes to the BOMA. Upon arrival where we were welcomed with a traditional greeting, then given ‘chitenges’ (traditional robes) to wear. We were then seated at our table. The food included a wide selection of traditional Zimbabwean dishes including warthog, crocodile, impala, buffalo and kudu. And lovely salads. Norman even braved the Mopani worm, and was duly awarded a certificate of achievement! The night included Amakwezi traditional dancers, singers, and their amazing drummers, Amazulu. We were each given a drum and joined in as well!
All in all, a fun night.
Back to the Kingdom Hotel to bed …
We’re still on a lion hunt, even though it’s our last morning in the Klaserie! So we headed out in a last ditch attempt to find those elusive big cats that had kept Shaun guessing. Upon scrutinising the animal tracks, Shaun and Wiseman thought the watering hole was worth a visit. Alas, to no avail. We soaked up our last safari in the Klaserie all the same.
Then we headed back to camp for a last breakfast with Lindsay before leaving. What a magical place the Klaserie has been, completely captivating.
We said our goodbyes to Lindsay then headed in the direction of Klaserie HQ to change over from our safari vehicle to the minivan. Then it was off towards the Klaserie main gate to exit the reserve. We were trucking along the main (and only sealed) road in the Klaserie, only a few kilometres from the main gate, when Di (who had been asleep), awoke with a start and called out “lion”!!! Shaun stopped, then backed up to find … unbelievably … a leopard on a track just off the road!! Being nocturnal creatures, leopards are notoriously hard to spot during the day as they are normally resting, draped on tree limbs or lying in thick undergrowth.
This was nothing short of sensational! Di, our “Queen” leopard spotter!! Our leopard allowed us to get reasonably close in the vehicle, all the while checking us out inquisitively. Thankfully, he allowed Norman to get some fantastic photos!
And that was how we enjoyed our thrilling last 10 minutes in the Klaserie. What a fitting end to our time there! AND … we checked off the ‘Big Five’! Done!
Onwards towards Johannesburg, passing firstly through the town of Hoedspruit. Then we made our way through the utterly spectacular Blyde River Canyon in the Drakensberg Escarpment. Talk about jaw dropping scenery! We actually stopped there at craft stalls local women had set up on the roadside. Talk about stalls with a view! Di and I had a look through them, and I bought a couple of tablecloths. Then we set off again. The next town we passed through was Lydenburg. Then it was time to stop for a late lunch at lovely little Dullstroom, where we had enjoyed pancakes on our way to Kruger some six days ago. This time we had lunch at Pickles and Things. Then we hit the road again for J’Burg. On the approach to J’Burg, there was a large haze cloud which I asked about. Shaun explained it was a result of the locals burning coal for heating!
Finally we made it to our warm and inviting B&B, Sleep Eezy. We deposited our bags, showered, rugged up, then walked the 15 minutes to local Italian restaurant, Pizza Del Forno. The food was hearty and plentiful, and we found a nice Shiraz, Thierry & Guy’s ‘Fat Bastard’. Not a bad drop! And Heather celebrated our incredible leopard sighting with leopard necklaces for us three ladies! YAY!!
Off to bed, ready for our flight to Victoria Falls tomorrow …
What a great start to the day! Soon after that we came across a pack of African wild dogs on a hunt. Shaun was pretty excited about this sighting as the African wild dog is the most endangered carnivore in South Africa. This pack was on a hunt, and scenting for their prey. We followed them for about 20 minutes and it was incredible to see their highly organised way of hunting and working together. It was evident what incredibly intelligent and social animals they are.
Sightings for the morning included giraffe, honey badgers, and bushbuck. Shaun surprised us with a wonderful morning tea on a rise beside the Olifants River! We had a 180° degree view of the river and a pod of hippos oblivious to us.
During morning tea Wiseman recounted in detail a fabulous story about him being entrapped by three lions … comes with the territory it seems for obtaining Dangerous Game Guide accreditation!! Happy to say he passed! At morning tea time Heather disappeared off into the bush momentarily but suffered stage fright … hahahaha!!!
After morning tea we were off again until Shaun spotted a tree that caught his interest. It was then that we learned of his passion for trees, more especially photographing them. So Norman too made a beeline for the tree, duly lay down in the scrub, and took some shots. At one with nature!
Then it was back to Nyeleti for an early lunch. Lindsay had prepared for us an eggplant bake, with lentils and corn fritters. During our midday “rest period” we observed a herd of Cape buffalo grazing by the river. What a great sight … all from our dining table! While we had our break, Shaun made a mercy dash to another of the Klaserie Camps to top up our wine stocks which were at a critical level! Ah, we were saved by the bell … thank you Shaun!! Then we were off again on our afternoon safari, all the while still tracking big cats. Sightings for the afternoon included warthogs, giraffe, bush babies, a genet, and steenbok.
Sundowners were at the old airport hangar lookout where the sun, a giant orange ball of fire, descended, lighting up the sky in the most vibrant red, pink and purple colours! Truly magnificent!
Then it was back to our lodging for our last dinner in this truly glorious place. Lindsay had prepared cauliflower and blue cheese soup, followed by slow cooked lamb, potatoes and greens. Most hearty!
Then we sat round our last camp fire in the Klaserie and recounted our “top 3”experiences of the trip so far. It was fabulous to re-live those great moments again. And plenty of funny stories were also shared, including Shaun’s “Mrs Tastic” tale (absolutely hilarious!) and Steve’s “long nose, long tail, short legged, rough backed terrier” joke!
Then off to bed … last night in the Klaserie.
As a side note – It is worth mentioning here that over the past few days Shaun had taught us the Zulu word for ‘thank you’… ‘siyabonga’. Well … I was trying it out at every opportunity!! At least five unsuspecting locals fell victim to my Zulu outbursts, one child even answering me today! GO ME!!