A Travellerspoint blog

The Western Cape

sunny 14 °C
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After a night in the pleasant little town of Bredasdorp, we headed down to a lovely coastal village called Arniston, before continuing to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa. It is a reasonably scenic spot, with a picturesque lighthouse nearby. We then drove inland, stopping briefly at the village of Elim, a historic mission station famous for its quaint little houses. After a night in Gansbaai, we went for a great walk at Fernkloof Nature Reserve, in the hills overlooking the wealthy town of Hermanus. We have loved all the amazing walking in South Africa, with such interesting and varied scenery during the course of the trip. After exploring Hermanus, we continued along the coast to Betty’s Bay, a chilled out coastal settlement which is home to an African penguin colony. We enjoyed seeing the penguins waddling about, and certainly felt a bit less threatened by them than some of the other African wildlife!

After a night in Betty’s Bay, we headed north to Franschhoek. At one point on our journey we were confused as to why there was so much dust blowing around. It turned out the dust was coming from a big dam nearby, which had a scarily low water level; evidence of the water shortage in the Western Cape. Residents are currently advised to use less than 87 litres of water per day, which isn’t a lot when you consider the average 8-minute shower uses 62 litres! Franschhoek is a pretty little town at the eastern end of the wine country, surrounded by mountains on three sides. It is famous for becoming the home of many of the Hugenots who emigrated from France at the end of the 17th Century. They are proud of their French heritage, with almost every business being named in French and preparations well underway for Bastille Day! After a night in Franschhoek, we enjoyed some winetasting at Solms Delta and Stellenbosch Hills wineries. Given how good the wines were, our only dilemma was deciding how many bottles we could fit into our bags for the journey home!

It wasn’t far to Stellenbosch, the old university town at the western edge of the wine country. Stellenbosch is a bit bigger and livelier than Franschhoek, and we enjoyed wandering around. We took part in our second South African parkrun of the trip, which was the toughest course we have both done. It was also very popular, with over 700 participants, despite taking place at 8am! In Stellenbosch we watched the final match of the Lions vs All Blacks series, before travelling on to Cape Town, our final destination of the trip. We spent our first night in Newlands, round the corner from the famous rugby stadium, where we watched the Stormers defeat the Sunwolves fairly easily in the Super Rugby tournament.

The next morning we had planned to visit Robben Island, but unfortunately due to bad weather (our first and only day of rain in Western Cape), it was cancelled and we had to reschedule for another day. Instead, we walked around the city and took part in the free historic walking tour. Our tour guide, Ken, was a very inspirational chap and by the end we weren’t sure if it was more of a walking tour or a motivational talk! Although Ken is white, his dad was a member of the ANC and he has an adopted black sister. He was a big fan of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, both of whom he quoted on multiple occasions. He pulled no punches in describing the apartheid regime and what it meant for South African people. It is amazing to think how recently, and for how long, it all took place.

Waking up to clear skies the next day, we decided to climb Table Mountain. We headed up the Patteklip Gorge route, which looks down over the city centre and Table Bay. It is quite steep, so we were fairly warm by the time we reached the summit. This didn’t last for long, however, because it was pretty cold at the top, unsurprising given it is over 1000m in altitude. The views from up top are amazing, with a 360 degree panorama over False Bay, the Cape Peninsula, the city centre and Table Bay out to Robben Island. We had descended to the car by lunchtime, giving us time to drive down to Cape Point by mid-afternoon. It is a scenic drive all the way down the Cape Peninsula, which culminates at the dramatic, windswept rocks of Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Although it is over an hour’s drive from Cape Town, we felt it was still well worth the trip, even with the bad traffic on our way back to the city. We rewarded ourselves after the busy day with our last of many excellent steak dinners in South Africa.

On our final full day in Cape Town we finally got out to Robben Island, famous for being the prison where Nelson Mandela was kept for most of his nearly three decades behind bars. The boat trip out to the island is enjoyable in itself, with great views back to Table Mountain and the city below. Once on the island, we started with the bus tour around some of the sights, including the wardens’ village and the limestone quarry where many of the prisoners worked during the day. We then joined the walking tour through the prison itself, led by an ex-prisoner who had been there during the 1980s. He gave us a good insight into the difficult conditions faced by the prisoners. For many years, black prisoners were made to wear shorts and walk around barefoot, all year round. It would have been very cold during the winter, especially because they didn’t have any glass windows for many years. The black prisoners were also given less food allowance than the Indian or coloured prisoners. There were no white political prisoners on Robben Island, which is no surprise given the segregation practised under apartheid. All in all, it would have been a horrible place to be kept. Given its isolated location, unsurprisingly no prisoners managed to escape during the apartheid era.

When we got back to Cape Town we visited the Slavery Museum. Although the European settlers did not enslave the local indigenous population, they instead brought thousands of slaves from elsewhere in Africa and the East Indies. We learned that many slaves were given the surname of the month they arrived. This would explain the origins of people like the rugby player, Juarno Augustus, who made his debut for the Stormers in the match we watched at Newlands. The language of Afrikaans has evolved from Dutch, mixed with other languages brought to South Africa by many of these slaves. This fascinating history explains why there is such a diversity of people and cultures in this part of Africa. We sampled the Asian influence on the local cuisine by eating dinner at the Eastern Food Bazaar, not far from City Hall. We finally got to try “bunny chow,” which surprisingly doesn’t contain any rabbit. This is a South African specialty where delicious curry is stuffed inside a hollowed-out loaf of bread! It certainly won’t win any Michelin stars anytime soon, but it was still a fun thing to try.

Before heading home on our last day of the trip, we drove up to the Rhodes Memorial, which has excellent views over the city. Although Cecil Rhodes wasn’t a universally popular character, it is amazing how much he achieved in the 49 years he was alive. From there we visited the beautiful wineries of Constantia, on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. These are even more picturesque than the wineries around Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, which is no mean feat! We then headed out to the airport for our flight home, going via Dubai to Dublin.

We are so pleased that we finished up our trip in South Africa. It has so much to offer, and we are already wondering when we will be able to return! We were amazed by how few other tourists we encountered for much of our time in this stunning country. People are maybe put off by the security situation, but we didn’t have any problems during our entire stay. The standard of accommodation was the best of the whole trip, and people are amazingly friendly and hospitable.

After four and a half months of travelling, we are glad to be back home. We are very lucky to have been able to visit some incredible places and enjoy so many wonderful experiences, but nowhere else is quite like home. It is great to be back among our family and friends, and we certainly have plenty of catching up to do! We would both thoroughly recommend anyone who is considering undertaking a similar trip to go ahead and do it. We would be more than happy to share our advice with anyone interested in visiting anywhere we have been.

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Cape Agulhas

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Fernkloof Nature Reserve

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Penguin spotting

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Solms Delta Winery in Franschhoek

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Rugby at Newlands

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Bo Kaap in Cape Town

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Thankfully we can sit where we want nowadays!

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The views from Table Mountain

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Cape Point

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The V&A Waterfront

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Limestone quarry, Robben Island

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The view back toward Cape Town

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Nelson Mandela's cell

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Bunny chow!

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The view from Rhodes Memorial

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Groot Constantia Winery

Posted by Honeymayning 17:56 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Maloti Route to Garden Route

semi-overcast 17 °C
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After leaving Witsieshoek we drove to the beautiful little village of Clarens. We travelled along the Maloti Route, which skirts the Northern Drakensberg near the Lesotho border. On the way, we passed through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park at dusk. By chance, it happened to be an incredible time of day to drive through the amazing landscape. The last of the light from the setting sun brought out the beautiful yellow/orange colour of the sandstone cliffs, before silhouetting the outlines of the jagged hills as we drove westwards. The next morning, we enjoyed wandering around Clarens, where every other building seems to house an art gallery. There must be plenty of local artists inspired by the surrounding mountain landscape! We then drove back to the Golden Gate Highlands, where we hiked the Wodehouse Trail, which goes up to the highest points of the park with impressive views over the sandstone rock and Drakensberg Mountains in the distance. We normally set a fast pace when we are out walking, so we got a bit of a shock when a guy came and overtook us who looked dressed for a walk in the city! It turned out he was an Italian guy visiting South Africa on a work trip, which explained his limited selection of clothes. We managed to keep up with him and chat as much as possible in the high-altitude air, as well as helping each other out with navigation.

We continued on the Maloti Route to the town of Ladybrand, where we stayed in a beautiful old sandstone house. Here we were well looked after by the owner of the guesthouse, who was one of the most hospitable people we have met. We are lucky to have stayed with some very kind and generous people during our four months of travelling so far, but Kaye from “17 on Beeton” really was exceptional. She cooked us both steaks about the size of our heads, as well as giving us a lovely bottle of South African brut, all on the house! We now had a lot of driving ahead of us before we reached Port Elizabeth down on the coast. We decided to break up the journey by staying a night in the little village of Steynsburg, which looks like it hasn’t changed since the seventies or eighties! We stayed in a homestay with a very eccentric and humorous owner named Dennis. It appeared that Dennis, who is a very talkative guy, just wanted people to chat to during his retirement, having previously worked all around the world in the hotel and catering business. We still have no idea why he chose to live in Steynsburg, but now he is planning to leave and having a bit of a battle on his hands to sell the property, which has been on the market for around five years!

From Steynsburg we drove through the semi-arid desert of the Karoo, which accounts for a huge proportion of the South African landmass. Eventually we reached the pretty little town of Graaff-Reinet, which has lots of old-style Dutch houses. We broke up the journey by walking around the town, before driving up the hill in nearby Camdeboo National Park, which provides a view of the eerie “Valley of Desolation.” This is a view for many miles where there is next to no evidence of humanity, just miles and miles of scrubland. It was odd to see, as we have visited so many famous viewpoints of spectacular scenes elsewhere in South Africa, whereas here was famous for having a view of nothing in particular!

After a night in Port Elizabeth we started on the famous Garden Route. We got a bit of a shock as we headed west along the coast, with our little car getting pummelled by strong winds and heavy rain coming in off the sea. Our first stop on the Garden Route was at Storm’s River, which was an apt name given the inclement weather conditions! We walked along the rocky coastline, which was getting a battering from some impressively big waves. With the wind, rain and cooler temperature it felt a lot more like home than anywhere else we had visited in South Africa! We stayed in Storms River Village in a beautiful spot called ‘Armagh Country Lodge’, where we were really kindly given our biggest upgrade of the trip, from the most basic room to the fanciest suite in the whole lodge! We’re not sure if the upgrade had anything to do with the fact that the owner is originally from Armagh (hence the name!) but it was a very nice surprise after a day of windy coastal walking. After a restful night and cooked breakfast, we were well prepared for our morning activity - bungy jumping at Bloukrans Bridge, the highest bridge bungy jump in the world!

Having already signed up and paid two days before, Charlotte had found plenty of time to worry about all the possible dangers of jumping from a bridge 216m above the ground! Obviously, the guys in charge sensed Charlotte’s apprehension, as they lined her up to jump first. The walk out to the middle of the bridge was scary in itself, with a view through the grated metal floor, all the way down to the ground far below. Before long, Charlotte had her ankles tied up and attached to the stretchy rope which would be the only thing stopping her from falling to her certain death. Charlotte had just enough time to become thoroughly terrified, before being ushered to the ledge by two of the guys who supervise the operation. After a little coaxing and persuasion, all that was needed was a little nudge to send Charlotte tumbling over the edge like a sack of spuds!

Once Charlotte had successfully tested the equipment, I felt confident to give it a go myself. It was definitely the scariest thing I have ever done, with the land and sky turning into a green and blue blur, while it felt like I had left my stomach behind on the bridge somewhere! Even the bit at the end, once the rope had stopped bouncing up and down, was terrifying, as I dangled around 70m above the valley floor. I had the scary sensation that the strapping around my ankles was loosening, so I couldn’t wait to get lifted back up to the bridge before I had to test out the safety harness around my shoulders! Still buzzing from our jump, we let off a bit of steam by spending the afternoon walking at Nature’s Valley, which is much more tranquil and sheltered than Storm’s River.

We spent a night at Plettenberg Bay, a very affluent place which feels much more like somewhere in Europe than in Africa. We enjoyed walking along Robberg Beach before travelling along the coast to Knysna. We were worried that Knysna would be a smouldering ruin, following the devastating forest fires which razed over 5000 houses to the ground just a couple of weeks before. Thankfully it is still a lovely town, although the surrounding forests which it was renowned for have all been destroyed. Maybe all the rain back home isn’t such a bad thing when at least we don’t have to worry about such horrific forest fires. After floods in New Zealand, a cyclone in Australia, terrorism in the Philippines and a small earthquake in Japan, we have certainly had our experience of natural and human made disasters on this trip!

We participated in Knysna parkrun, making South Africa the fourth country in which we have run the timed 5km. With times of 19:44 and 23:30, thankfully our fitness hasn’t plummeted too substantially during our big adventure! After watching the second test in the Lions series in New Zealand, we continued our journey along the Garden Route to Mossel Bay, where we enjoyed some more coastal walking along the St Blaize trail. We spent a night inland at the lovely little town of Swellendam, from which we drove many miles over unpaved roads to reach De Hoop Nature Reserve, back on the coast. Here we walked along the whale trail, which was an amazing walk along sand dunes and beautiful beaches. When we spotted several whales out at sea, splashing the water with their fins, it really was the icing on the cake!

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Golden Gate Highlands

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Clarens

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A familiar sight on South African roads. Why not save the money of putting up the sign by spending it on repairing the potholes instead!

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The Valley of Desolation near Graaff-Reinet

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Storm's River

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Getting ready to bungy

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We survived!

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Nature's Valley

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Plettenberg Bay

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Knysna Heads

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St Blaize trail, Mossel Bay

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Hard to believe it is midwinter in South Africa!

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Whale watching at De Hoop Nature Reserve

Posted by Honeymayning 19:30 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Swaziland, Battlefields and Drakensberg

sunny 16 °C
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Leaving the Kruger Park bubble behind after our five-night stay, we spent the next night in Malelane, where it was great to enjoy the afternoon sun by the pool, our first pool use since leaving The Philippines! The next day we waved South Africa goodbye to head across the border to neighbouring Swaziland, a country small enough to give Northern Ireland a run for its money, so small in fact that it would fit comfortably within the perimeters of the Kruger Park!

After the initial excitement of another stamp in our passports (it never gets old!) it was great to see the beauty of Swaziland spread out before us, a country I have to admit I hadn’t even heard of until my doctor/travel agent husband started piecing this trip together! Swaziland is an interesting country as it is ruled by a monarch, the current King Mswati III, who makes all the big decisions including who makes up the government. Knowing a little of the corruption within politics in South Africa, it sounded to me a little concerning that one man is calling all the shots in the neighbouring Swaziland. However, on learning a little more about the current king, he appears to be popular amongst locals and is portrayed as having Swaziland’s best interests at heart.

We visited Nsangwini Rock Art, original caveman art which can only be reached by a fairly bumpy 7km dirt road drive and then a 20-minute hike. Dating the exact age of the art seems fairly vague, but it is estimated it could be up to 4000 years old, and it was interesting to hear about its meanings from a local guide. For our first night in Swaziland we stayed at ‘Maguga Lodge’, in a traditional style rondavel overlooking the impressive Maguga Dam. Water is very precious in Africa, so they need to make use of every last drop, a bit of an alien concept to us!
We stayed three more nights in Swaziland, all of which were in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a fantastic wildlife park because as there are no carnivorous game (as long as you steer clear of the crocodiles!), and as long as you don’t irritate the hippos, you are able to roam free unguided amongst the wildlife! During our stay we made full use of this, going for plenty of runs and walks and meeting lots of wildlife along the way. The most spectacular view in the park was from ‘Execution Peak’, so named as it was originally where those sentenced to death in the area were forced to jump off! We loved staying right in the middle of the park and had a beautiful rondavel where warthogs, zebra and impala grazed right on our doorstep.

During our stay in Mlilwane we also took a daytrip to Hlane Royal National Park with the hope of locating rhino, the last of ‘The Big 5’ we’d yet to see! It’s very sad that due to rhino poaching, numbers of these magnificent animals are dwindling rapidly. in the Kruger at least one rhino a day is killed by poachers, therefore they’ve become a rare sight. Apparently a rhino horn can be sold for up to 70000 US dollars, which explains the reason behind the sad situation. We spent the morning driving around the park seeing plenty of wildlife, but as we stopped to have our picnic lunch we were still yet to spot any of the illustrious rhino. We were therefore pretty frustrated when we realised we’d forgotten our lunch and would have to cut our visit short to go and buy an alternative! It’s funny how things work out, as we ended up stopping at the park restaurant to eat, timing it perfectly to see two groups of rhino (5 in total) at a nearby watering hole, who we would have missed had we remembered our pack lunch! It was an incredible sight to see them drinking right next to hippos having a splash, and one that was worth all the effort.

The next day it was wonderful to enjoy the amazing, mountainous Swaziland scenery one last time before crossing back over to South Africa, not that the views in South Africa are too bad either! Heading South-West, we spent a night just outside of Vryheid on a beautiful dairy farm, which featured animals we’re much more used to at home than the big game we’ve been seeing the last few weeks on safari!
From Vryheid we travelled onwards to Rorke’s Drift, the location of a famous battle in the Anglo-Zulu war in 1879. Richard was aware of my sketchy historical knowledge, and so we prepped the night before by watching the film, ‘Zulu’, made about the battle! The battle at Rorke’s Drift followed the battle of Isandlwana, where over a thousand British soldiers were killed by the Zulu army. 4000 Zulus then descended on the small settlement at Rorke’s Drift, where just over 100 British managed somehow to hold them off and survive, earning 11 Victoria Crosses in the process! We stayed at the amazing, rural location of ‘Rorke’s Drift Lodge’ nearby, with incredible unspoilt views across the mountains. We loved being able to explore the walking routes on their land, and admire the views from all angles!

We continued to travel towards the Drakensberg Mountains, spending a night in Harrismith to break up the journey. From there we moved on to our highest stay of the trip at ‘Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge,’ 2200m above sea level. Our purpose for staying there (aside from the spectacular views) was to climb the nearby Sentinel Peak. Our first attempt was cut short by dense mist and cold temperatures, so we were thrilled the next day to see the fog lifting as we ate breakfast, just in time for our second attempt!

We needed a good challenge to get over the disappointment from watching the first Lions vs All Blacks test, and we certainly got it at Sentinel Peak. It is an incredible hike, ascending to over 3050m altitude. It begins with a steep trail, which culminates in a set of chain ladders to scale the sheer rock cliff up to the flat plateau at Mont-Aux-Sources. The views were absolutely breath-taking and we were incredibly lucky to have clear conditions on top. It is a surreal experience to be hiking uphill and climbing ladders to then pop out on the mountain plateau and be walking around on flat land. These huge mountain plateaus are what the Drakensberg is known for, and something we have particularly enjoyed seeing as the scenery is so different from anything we’ve seen before.

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Nsangwini Rock Art

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Maguga Dam

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Good to know when there is danger ahead!

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Warthogs by the pool in Mlilwane

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Early morning mist in Mlilwane

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Rhino in Hlane

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Aloe vera at Vryheid

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Richard's new pals in Vryheid

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Rorke's Drift

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Breakfast at Rorke's Drift Lodge

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Climbing Sentinel Peak

Posted by Honeymayning 09:38 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Kruger Wilderness Trail

sunny 24 °C
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After a wonderful breakfast overlooking the Olifants River, we drove south through the park to Satara Camp. We spotted plenty more zebras, giraffes, elephants, crocodiles, hippos, lizards and even a few turtles on the way. It is funny to see the mixture of innocent, harmless animals right beside some of the deadliest predators on earth! Sitting in the safety of the car, we felt a bit sorry for all the potential prey, knowing that there are so many predators around. Then we realised that we would soon be out on foot in the park ourselves; a bit of a scary prospect! At Satara Camp we had a picnic lunch 20m (and the other side of a small fence) from several big elephants, who were eating much more than us! They consume over 130kg of food every day (which is heavier than Jonah Lomu in his prime), washed down with up to 190 litres of water. No wonder they spend 16-18 hours eating every day, which is coincidentally the same amount of time that lions spend sleeping!

Our reason for stopping at Satara was to embark on the three night Mathikithi Wilderness Trail. There are seven such trails within the camp, organised by the national parks service. The wilderness trails involve tented accommodation somewhere in the wilderness (surprise surprise) of the park. There are two morning walks and two afternoon walks out among the deadly wildlife, led by two armed rangers. All the food is provided, so we only needed to bring clothes (with a few spare pairs of underwear just in case of any scares) and booze! Turning up on the first afternoon we weren’t too sure what to expect. The advice leaflet made it sound like you needed to be a seasoned adventurer with supreme physical fitness, preferably with experience of climbing Everest or crossing the Sahara Desert on foot with only a tube of toothpaste for nutrition. Coming from the harsh, hostile and challenging environment of County Down, Northern Ireland, we were confident we could hold our own. It was a shock, therefore, when we discovered the rest of our wilderness buddies were a bunch of very friendly South Africans of varying ages and backgrounds. None of them had even crossed the Kalahari Desert on foot, never mind the Sahara! Esma (journalist), Audrey (physio), Gert and Estelle (farmers) came from the Western Cape, while Albert (financial advisor) and Anelenie (physio) came from Pretoria. We were also pleased to see that we were not the only ones bringing along a supply of booze!

After introducing ourselves to our wilderness trail buddies, and trying in vain to memorise their unfamiliar-sounding names, we were picked up by the two rangers who would be with us for the next three days. Ervort, the lead ranger, was a tall white guy, and Philip, the second ranger, was a solidly built black guy. It has been a bit of a shock getting used to seeing how tall the South Africans are after being in Asia for a while. I suppose it’s no wonder they are so big given the cheap price of meat here! It also explains why they make such good rugby players, with over 200 professionals currently playing overseas. We headed out to Mathikithi Camp on the back of the safari jeep. Not far from the camp we saw the grizzly sight of the hind legs of an impala hanging off a branch of one of the trees, the leftovers of a leopard’s lunch not long before! We were relieved, therefore, when we saw the camp was surrounded by a tall fence, with the uppermost wires being electrified. We were amazed to find the accommodation was much more luxurious than we had expected. The tents were large and spacious, with proper beds and shared bathroom facilities. At camp we met Hendrie, a friendly-looking guy who was camp master, responsible for cooking and cleaning. The first evening we had the first of many amazing meals, cooked on a gas stove and oven. Every meal was restaurant-quality, with the huge portions we have come to expect in South Africa. Thank goodness we were doing a bit of walking, as otherwise we would have been needing to be rolled out of the camp on the final day! The highlight of the meals was on the last evening when we tucked in to a traditional braai, the South African style barbecue cooked over a fire. After eating, each evening we sat around the campfire chatting and looking up the stars in the clear night sky. The locals affectionately call the campfire “bushman TV” since it is all the entertainment you need. Each evening, beside the campfire, Ervort (a very knowledgeable guy on all matters involving nature) briefed us on the plans for the following day. He also explained about the running of the park, including the water provision policy and fire policy.
Over the following three days we went out on walks into the park. The morning walk began around 6am, at dawn, lasting for around five hours. We ate a picnic breakfast out in the park, before returning to camp around 11am prior to a hearty lunch. We then had a siesta during the early afternoon, when the animals were least active in the hottest part of the day. By late afternoon we went on another walk, finishing with sundowner drinks out in the park before coming back for a delicious dinner.

The walks in the park were an amazing experience. The rangers walked at the front, with rifles in hand in case we came under threat from anything that looked dangerous. We walked in single file behind, trying to stay as quiet as possible. It is amazing how much sound we all made as we walked, even though we were forbidden to speak unless we had stopped somewhere safe. The sound of our footfall was enough to alert all the animals in the area of our presence long before we spotted most of them. Another amazing thing is how scared animals are of humans, even though most of the herbivores, never mind carnivores, could do us serious damage if they wanted to. We learned so much on the walks, with Ervort taking time to explain about all the different plants, birds, insects and animals that we encountered along the way. There was a huge diversity of life within just a short distance of the gate to the camp.

We particularly enjoyed the evening walks, when the heat was beginning to fade and the setting sun bathed the park in a beautiful orange light. During both evening walks we encountered herds of elephants tramping through the bush like they owned the place. We certainly felt very small and insignificant in comparison! On the first evening, shortly after seeing the elephants, there was a loud, menacing growl and sudden movement right beside where Ervort was walking. He leapt a couple of feet into the air in shock, thinking he was about to be devoured by a leopard. Instead, to everyone’s relief, it was a disgruntled porcupine who had probably already been disturbed by the elephants and didn’t want any more hassle! On our drive back to camp that evening we saw a group of female lions with their cubs. Having heard about the lengths that lions will go to ensure the safety of their cubs, we were glad to see them from the safety of the jeep! On the walk the following morning, we saw the footprints of a white rhino and a large male lion. Ervoort said we were very unlucky not to see them in the flesh, given the tracks were quite fresh, but we felt happy enough not to be eyed up as a potential breakfast!

Our time on Mathikithi Wilderness Trail will go down as a major highlight of a trip full of highlights. We were very lucky with our group, a wonderful bunch of people who were great company for the duration of the trail. For anyone considering a trip to The Kruger National Park we would highly recommend one of the wilderness trails, which need to be booked well in advance. When we booked onto Mathikithi in September 2016, there were already several trails that were fully booked for duration of our trip.

After finishing the trail, we spent our final night in Lower Sabie Rest Camp, which overlooks the Sabie River not far from the Mozambican border. We previously stayed beside the same river, only further upstream, when we stayed in Sabie town on our second night of the trip. By the time we left the park through Crocodile Bridge Gate, we felt that we had seen a large amount of wildlife, including giraffes, baboon and vervet monkeys, ostriches, crocodiles, turtles, tortoises, wildebeest, elephants, buffalos, impalas, kudus, hippos, porcupines, zebras and lions!

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Crocodile sunbathing
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Lion paw print
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The jaw of a hippo
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March of the elephants
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Evert doing some explaining
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Philip keeping an eye out for trouble
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Our wilderness trail buddies
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Why did the tortoise cross the road?
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Posted by Honeymayning 10:42 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Johannesburg to The Kruger National Park

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After a fantastic two and a half weeks experiencing both rural and metropolis Japan it was time for us to move on to our next, and final destination of our great adventure - South Africa! Unfortunately, we are yet to figure out teleportation, so after a fun final day in Japan exploring Tokyo we headed to Haneda Airport for our late night flight to Johannesburg, via Qatar.

After our no-frills experiences flying with Cebu Pacific, it was nice to make the upgrade to Qatar Airways. Given that we were travelling for 20 hours it was nice to have things like TVs and free drinks! We made it to Johannesburg without a hitch (despite a sudden crisis in Middle East politics) and headed straight to meet the newest addition to our hire car fleet, a Datsun Go whom we have christened Gary. What Gary lacks in boot space and acceleration he makes up for in youth (we celebrated his 20 000km birthday just after meeting him!) and style, however we certainly won’t be winning any uphill races any time soon! It’s great to have a car again after about 6 weeks car-free in the Philippines and Japan.

By this point we had been awake around 38 hours and beginning to sway on the spot, so we thought it best we get on to our hotel! We’d been advised to steer clear of Johannesburg for safety reasons so we headed straight out of the city to stay about 50km east in a little spot called Delmas. After a rather indulgent feast of burgers and chips we were very happy to finally get some sleep!

The next morning our South African adventure truly began as we headed further east towards Sabie. Thankfully we managed to get a good sleep as you need to have your wits about you on the South African roads, we passed three car crashes and saw a lorry nearly veer off the motorway all within a couple of hours! Sabie is a nice little town at the beginning of the ‘Panorama Route’ and is also very conveniently placed for some waterfall exploring. We stayed in a wonderful spot in what was previously a dairy farm, and it didn’t take long for Richard to get talking rugby with the huge owner whose nephew is a world cup winning former Springbok named Danie Roussow! That afternoon we visited two nearby waterfalls, Lone Creek falls and Bridal Veil falls. Both were impressive but Lone Creek was our favourite of the two and at a 68m drop made for a beautiful sight.
Our accommodation was right by the Sabie River so we enjoyed breakfast outside (despite the chilliest temperatures since New Zealand!) before hitting the road again. Our first stops were Sabie Falls and Macmac Falls, which were both beautiful waterfalls, before we made our way properly on to the Panorama Route. The scenery along the route is absolutely incredible, it is so different to anything we’ve seen before with the red rock formations, pinnacles and huge canyons, I felt in awe of the views the whole time!

To mark our 100th day of the trip, Richard had his eye on an adrenaline kick. Just outside of a town called Graskop we visited ‘The Big Swing’, a bungee jump style swing with a 68m freefall before swinging through the canyon to a waterfall view. It didn’t take long for him to talk me in to joining him and we opted for a tandem swing so we were able to take the leap together. Despite my knocking knees, and bombardment of questions for the staff (‘has anyone ever been hurt?’, ‘has anyone done it today yet?’, ‘has anyone ever DIED?’, ‘do you promise?!’) we made it over the edge to the biggest adrenaline buzz of my life, and one of those experiences we’ll never forget.

Still high on adrenaline, we headed off to travel the ‘God’s Window’ loop. We visited two sites, ‘The Pinnacle’ and ‘God’s Window’. The Pinnacle is a huge rock left standing alone due to surrounding, softer rock eroding over time leaving it like a lone giant, with a beautiful valley backdrop. ‘God’s Window’ is likely the most famous view along the Panorama Route, and earns its name due to the impressive panorama and sheer distance that can be seen.

Next we visited a little village called ‘Pilgrims Rest’, an ex-gold mining site which has since been bought over by the government in the 1970’s and is now restored and largely a tourist attraction. It was interesting to see some of the old buildings stuck in a time warp, and to imagine what it would’ve been like with flocks of people arriving in search of riches.

To conclude the Panorama Route we made two more stops at ‘Lowveld View’ and ‘The Three Rondavels’. Lowveld View was a beautiful view across the Blyde River Canyon, but our favourite of the day had to be The Three Rondavels, so named due to their resemblance to the hut-like rondavel buildings. Our guide book sums it up well when it says no photo can do it justice, and we spent almost an hour wandering around and looking at it from every direction.

We spent the night in the only resort overlooking the Blyde Canyon which was brilliant as it meant we were able to do some hiking the next morning. The resort has a few private viewpoints, as well as extensive private hiking routes, so we spent the morning exploring the breath-taking scenery without meeting a single other person. Afterwards we moved on again, this time to Phalaborwa. Phalaborwa Gate, a popular entrance point to the Kruger National Park, was just one mile away from our accommodation. On our last night before entering the park we decided to sample some proper South African cuisine, and by that I mean huge portions of meat! We tucked in to a mixed grill comprising steak, sausage, chicken and ribs with chips, which seems to just be the average meal in South Africa!

The Kruger is well set up with road access and self-drive is a popular choice for exploring, so we spent two days driving through North and Eastern portions of the 400km long safari park. We have already been incredibly lucky with the animals we have seen. Within 15 minutes of arriving in the park we met a herd of zebra, then saw 3 giraffes casually crossing the road right by our car. We have also seen hippo wallowing in the river, monkeys piggybacking their babies through the bush, elephants snacking on whatever they can reach, as well as receiving a good telling off from one elephant when we dared to get a little too close (we promptly got out of his way as I don’t think Gary could take him)! Along with warthog, wildebeest, crocodile, antelope and buffalo it’s been a fantastic start to our time in the Kruger.

On our first night in the Kruger we stayed in Olifants Camp, famous for its views over Olifants river. We stayed in cottage number 9, which has the best views of the whole camp. It was an incredible experience to watch giraffe and antelope drinking in the river, as well as hippo doing what they do best and wading straight in. After the sun set we enjoyed watching the reflection of the full moon on the river, which was a perfect start to our five nights within the park.

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Lone Creek Falls, Sabie

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Sabie River from our front garden

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Mac Mac Falls

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Big Swing, Graskop, from above

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From below!

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The Pinnacle

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Pilgrim's Rest

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The Three Rondavels

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Our cottage at Olfants Rest Camp

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Our new Datsun "Gary" Go

Posted by Honeymayning 11:53 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

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