Southern Africa Wrap-Up

Written by on December 30, 2012 in Africa, General with 2 Comments

Had I known that I was going to be able to push my Johannesburg to Hong Kong flight back another week, I would’ve travelled overland back down to Maputo and over the border to Nelspruit and up to Kruger.  However, I was only granted the extra few days at the last minute, and had already booked a flight from Vilanculos to J’Burg, so was grateful for the extra time and ready for a solo road trip for my grand finale of my Southern Africa trip.  Kruger Park and Blyde River Canyon were two places that I hadn’t been able to squeeze time in for yet, but are known highlights to most people’s South Africa adventures, so now that I had a few more days, I was determined to go check them out.

My flight was easy, and after sorting out a minor issue with my rental car reservation, I drove out of the J’Burg airport around 6p.   I made sure my ipod and mini JBL speaker were charged and ready, as South Africa radio stations are pretty terrible.   I actually love driving.  I love the freedom of it.  I see so much more when I’m behind the wheel.  And of course I love the control of being able to stop and go whenever I please.   And I have funny taste in music I like to listen and sing to on road trips, so sometimes it’s better to be by myself so I don’t have to subject others to it!  Anyway, after spending 5 days driving with Francois a couple weeks prior, who showed me how easy (and cheap!) it was to self-drive through game parks, I jumped at the chance to finish off my South Africa trip with a bang, and was happy to be flying completely solo for the last few days.

Under normal circumstances in the US or even in Europe, I would think a 5 hour drive would be a piece of cake, especially at night as there wouldn’t be any traffic.  No big deal, right? Well, I didn’t expect foggy/misty/rainy conditions on a highway that had one lane going in each direction, sometimes without any sort of median, that were wet and slippery with what seemed like thousands of black people on the side of the highway (or on the highway in some cases)!  WTF?!  So much for a relaxing drive.  After the first hour, it was white-knuckle driving for most of the trip.  I definitely didn’t expect the 18-wheeler to jack-knife 50 yards in front of me about halfway into the drive!  Luckily no one got hurt, and at just after 11pm, I pulled into Loerie’s Guest Farm in a small town called Hazyview, where I’d be staying the next 3 nights.  I was dead tired, and thankful that I didn’t die with the jack-knife incident. Phew.

The guest house proprietor, Maretha, came out to meet me and asked if I’d mind if she put me up in a twin room connected to the dorm as there was a miscommunication on my booking, but that they’d move me the next day.  I said fine and as we walked up the stairs for her to let me into my room, I stopped paying attention to any of her instructions because there were 3 massive roaches crawling up the walls behind her.  Ewwwww!  She squealed while she killed them with a shoe, and apologized…hoping that would be it for the night.

Unluckily for me, something in my room or the adjoining room was quite active throughout the night and I can only believe that they have a rat in the residence.  Ewwwww!!! (again!)  I could just hear tiny fast footsteps of something crawling around, and it was definitely bigger than a cockroach.  Yuck!  At least I never saw it.  And I’d moved all my possessions up off the floor and onto the extra twin bed…not that that would matter.  Needless to say, they moved me to a much nicer room the next night and didn’t charge me for the first night after I told them about the rat.

As the weather was predicted to be good the next day, Maretha had recommended that I get the Blyde River Canyon out of the way first, as it’s always easy to see animals in Kruger, rain or shine.  But, before heading there, I was having an overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t going to see any cheetahs on this trip, so decided to drive first to the Cheetah Sanctuary, about 2 hours north and then I’d work my way south through the canyon.  The Cheetah Sanctuary actually turned out to be an Endangered Species center, which seemed like a glorified zoo, as the animals were all in caged enclosures rather than roaming around “in the wild”.  Oh well.  Lesson learned.  I did see plenty of cheetahs, including a few cute cubs…like this one that reminded me of Antonio Banderas’ character in Shrek with those eyes!

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Still, with Kruger only a couple hours away, I wish Maretha had told me it was more like a zoo than a game park and spared me the time/effort that could’ve been spent making other stops along the gorgeous Panorama Route stretching for miles along the canyon and through the region between the “Highveld” and “lowveld”.

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After lunch, I headed towards Blyde River Canyon and caught one side of the 3 Rondavels, a huge rock formation that looks very much like three of the traditional African cylindrical houses with thatched roofs you may have seen in a few pictures from prior blog posts.  I drove through some gorgeous scenery that I can only compare to Sedona, Arizona or some of the National Parks in Utah, although this seemed to go on forever.

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I parked the car and followed the hordes of people to the edge of the pathway to take in the beauty of the 3 Rondavels, and their surrounding mountains.

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Beautiful!  Stunning scenery, even with dark and gloomy skies.

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I had high hopes of seeing and stopping off at several tourist sites, but was bummed out when a spot I stopped at called “God’s Window” was totally fogged in, as was another called the “Pinnacles”.  I did manage to stop at the impressive Mac Mac Falls.

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Also checked out the aptly named Horseshoe Falls.

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Last but not least, I drove over to Lonecreek Falls just before sunset, where I stole a pose from a friend of mine.

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I pulled into the Guest Farm around 6pm, completely exhausted after another really long day of driving.  It was actually a really cute place in a beautiful setting, and barring the pet rat, was happy that I chose to stay here. I made fast friends with Lincoln, Maretha’s father, by sharing a bottle of red while I used the only computer with internet capabilities inside the main house. It was an early night as I’d set the alarm for 445a the next morning for my one big day in Kruger.

Kruger is one of South Africa’s national symbols, and apparently THE thing to see while in South Africa.  I had not included it on the initial shorter itinerary, as after the safaris in Botswana, and the safaris I’d been on in Tanzania years ago, I didn’t think I needed to spend the money to see more animals.  Well…now that I had a few extra days, and know that it’ll most likely be at least another decade until I return to Africa, that I really shouldn’t miss out on the experience.  So, the next morning I left the farm at 5am and drove through many villages on R40 so that I could enter Kruger Park at the Orpen Gate, around 7a, which was my quickest way to get to the Satara area, known to be the spot to see the big cats. 7am is considered late for a game drive, as most of the action occurs around dawn or just before.  But, there was no way I was going to get up any earlier, so I accepted that I might have missed something.

Within an hour inside the park, I pulled up to a couple dozen cars, which had apparently witnessed a lion killing a giraffe about an hour earlier.  I could faintly see some yellowish brown fur moving around behind some trees about 150m in the distance, but without binoculars, it didn’t make sense to spend any more time watching the blurry lion eating its prey.  I didn’t really want to see a poor giraffe being eaten by a lion, to be honest.  I was much happier watching these two curious giraffes, who came very close to my car and were much more interesting alive to me!

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I cruised around Kruger for nearly 12 hours that day.  I witnessed why Kruger is so special.  Kruger has 21 different “eco-zones” which are spread across 20,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of Wales.  One minute I was driving through a wide open grassy savannah, and then the next I’d cross into river thickets or bushvelds, or rolling plains.  The Park was gorgeous, in every direction you turn.  It’s no wonder it’s so rich in wildlife.  I saw a ton of zebras, various antelope species – all so beautiful in their own way, like this little guy

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and some crazy looking birds, like this brilliantly colored saddle-billed stork.

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I had an amazing encounter with a pair of white rhinos which came super close to the car.

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They were really cute!

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And yet another with a herd of elephants just before I left the Park.

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I saw the yellow fur of a lion moving around in the distance after it killed a giraffe, and then a leopard’s tail hanging from a tree after it apparently had taken down an impala.  But, I don’t think it counts unless you get to look the animal in the eye.   Which is fine.  I had a good day and I got my fix and have had enough of game drives for at least another decade J  I’m ready for the next adventure.  I wasn’t before. Finally got home at 5p…12 hours after I’d left.  LONG day.

I wasn’t excited about the 5 hour drive back to J’Burg the next morning, but was happy I had the entire day and could take my time.  I decided I wanted one last animal experience before leaving Africa.  So, I stopped off at the Lion Park to pet some adorable lion cubs.

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Saw a couple beautiful black panthers, and did the self-drive through the lion enclosures.  They have several gorgeous white lions there, and a couple cubs like the cute one in the background here.

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It’s definitely not the same as seeing them in the wild, but helped quench my cat craving and I got to feel how soft their fur was 🙂

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That evening, Sharon and Mpude, the Zimbabwean couple I’d been on a snorkeling trip in Mozambique with, had invited me to stay with them at their house in J’Burg that night, so I headed there for some good food and lots of laughs before turning in for the night. Mpude is a former pro cricket player and now a sportscaster for cricket on TV in South Africa.  I tried to have him explain the rules of the game to me again, but it’s just lost on me. It was so generous and hospitable of them to put me up, and a great way to leave SA.  Thanks guys!

I headed to the airport and said farewell to Africa.  A few summary thoughts about travelling through Southern Africa:

I found the scenery to be amongst the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere in the world, especially throughout South Africa.

Travelling in this region was much, much easier than travelling through East Africa, where I’ve visited Kenya and Tanzania 12 years ago.  Although those places have a lot to offer, if you are planning your first Africa trip, I would say that Southern Africa is easier going for many reasons – most roads are paved, most people speak English, road signs are in English, most toilets are Western, and believe it or not, most bathrooms actually had toilet paper!

That being said, I sadly and scarily never felt safe, especially in South Africa, and especially after dark, which I’m sure is a direct result of the gaping wide division of wealth and overwhelming poverty for the majority of blacks.  I could not believe they actually had road signs like this one on the highway just outside of Johannesburg.  Seriously!?!  At least they warn you…

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I thought I’d misread it the first time I saw one, but had the camera prepped and ready in case I passed another one.  Sure enough, a mile up the highway there was another…and another.  I don’t understand how people can live in a place like that.  But then again, it is so unbelievably beautiful in most of South Africa, maybe it’s worth the sacrifice…???

 

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2 Reader Comments

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  1. Chris says:

    I like the pictures of the waterfalls and mountains. Very impressive. Looks like amazing place for a road trip (aside from the weather conditions you mentioned).

  2. Jenni Hill says:

    Unbelievable in both the beauty of the animals and waterfalls and scariness of the conditions.
    Africa is truly extraordinary on so many dimensions.

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