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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.

Lone Creek Falls, Sabie

Sabie River from our front garden

Mac Mac Falls

Big Swing, Graskop, from above

From below!

The Pinnacle

Pilgrim's Rest

The Three Rondavels

Our cottage at Olfants Rest Camp

Our new Datsun "Gary" Go

Posted by Honeymayning 11:53 Archived in South Africa

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Hi R and Ch
What an amazing adventure in S Africa on safari. The scenery looks stunning and the range of animals viewed ( some at very close range I fear!!!) is awesome!
It has been an excellent trip for you both and the blogs are great and make for some interesting reading. Hope 'Gary' keeps you safe and that you continue to enjoy checking out part of this vast continent!
Alison x

by Alison M

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