Have a couple still to post. Kgalagadi & Karoo and Cape Town. Will try for this week.
Durban, well Durban was an experience. Granted it was on the ocean, a toe did go in, but the location could have been better. Not the best neighbourhood and the bakkie was too tall, with the roof top tent, for all the secure parking lots.
Ended up paying a kid on the street to watch Springbok all night, empty of all visible contents of course. He may have been a pimp, honestly not sure. But between him and the “ladies” Springbok made it through the night. The searing heat and lack of functional AC made my night far worse than his (Springbok, not the pimp). Have you ever stayed at a place where you slept on top of the covers with your clothes on? Needless to say we bolted at first crack of dawn for the refuge of the Southern Drakensberg.
Scenic drive through the escarpment with green everywhere. Made me think of home and the Rockies. Undulating and curvy country side roads. Just what was needed after Durban.
And what would make this spectacular view even better….cheese. A Cheesery in Underberg. Should have had food prior to walking in. After purchasing my weight in cheese and probably some of the best biltong I have had to date I made it to Lake Naverone. Beautiful cottages nestled in the Mountains around a large lake. And with characters like Rohan and his wife Charmaine (hope I spelt that right) to keep you entertained the next couple days would be marvelous.
I finished unpacking and hung laundry to dry. All the things prior to a nice walk. Next was the camera. As I picked up the beast I heard and felt glass pieces. Shattered glass and a lens should never be heard at the same time. My heart sank. How is it possible? It has its own case, I’m extra careful. Must have been during the unpacking of Springbok in Durban. Darn Durban….well let’s see how bad this is. Thank you camera gods it’s just the UV filter. Somehow the lens cap and the UV filter became jammed, thus shattering the filter. The lens beneath without a scratch. Dance of joy commence!
A nice walk around the lake to stretch the legs is always wonderful. Maybe a paddle boat or some fishing….who knows what the days will bring.
The following day, Sanipass. Will not self-drive this one, mainly it’s too pretty and demanding. So either watch the road or the scenery but the two are hard to do simultaneously on this pass. Time to play tourist. Sanipass into Lesotho, even if it is just passed the border crossing. It’s one more stamp in a full passport. Another place to explore further at a later date.
With every tight turn during the ascent I became happier with the choice to be driven. Plus all the lovely stops along the way. The scenery really is breath-taking, a veritable feast for the eyes whichever way to look.
Once up top, a brief local village tour to meet with Basotho people who speak Sesotho. Yup, the people of Lesotho are called Basotho and speak Sesotho, say that three times fast. Fresh homemade bread and crafts and a brief language lesson before lunch.
Time for lunch in Africa’s highest pub before the descent back down to RSA.
And of course the birds, Cape Vultures and the Southern Bald-Ibis atop the mountain pass between mouthfuls of local stew.
The way up we were stopped by crews as active blasting would be taking place. Again glad I wasn’t driving I would not have known. So, we took our time going down to ensure the blasting was not only done but the rocky bits cleared. And of course spot an animal or two.
Sanipass was wonderful and the next day it was time to get physical. The plan was to hike to the Three Pools and maybe even to the Bushman Paintings. If we are feeling particularly spry Rhino’s Horn.
Beautiful morning for a hike. Slowly meander the way to the pools. Marshy grasslands from all the recent rains but endless green fields with the Drakensberg as a back drop. Slow going with frequent photo stops. Finally the pools. Feeling good, let’s clamour up the wedge and find those Bush paintings.
Nope! Camel bag sprung a leak. Again. It leaked prior to my departure all over the cushion. Gorilla taped the heck out of it but it sprung another leak in the office while talking with Rohan and Charmaine. So wrapped in plastic back in the pouch in the backpack. This time it found its way to the camera equipment. Although individual enclosed in their own casings the water found its way in. I couldn’t have leaked when I was at the bottom of the hill climb that would have been convenient.
At this point the lens and camera were not wet, a little damp but not wet, thankfully. I decided to climb back down, as not to push my luck. Sat next to one of the pools and sun-dried the equipment and had a wee picnic. Went for a brief, ice-cold dip and dried off in the blistering sun. Departing I kept wondering if I should just given it a go. Yes, the Camel bag had leaked 3 times, but surely now that it’s strapped to the outside I’d be fine. I may get wet but I’d dry. Humming and hawing, brain vs. gut, nope we shall slowly meander our way back. The best decision of the day. As I reached the dirt road the skies darkened and the thunder rumbled and chased after me all the way back to the office. Granted the deluge didn’t spring forth until sometime later but I’d have been stuck up the hill with no cover, nor water proof anything for the gear. Best choice.
Poor choice, however, was to forget to put sunscreen lotion on my calves. Didn’t think those puppies would see that much sun in the tall grass. Now they resembled cherry tomatoes. Lesson learned. Nothing is safe from the sun.
Lake Naverone and the Drakensberg did not fail to impress. The majestic escarpment midst the lush green grasses. Fabulous. Next, Coffee Bay, a long drive into the Wild Coast. Other guests having come up that way, weighed in on the drive on the Transkei. Not the best place to go at the moment. Detour needed. Scenic route through the mountains to Queenstown. A small town not to far from Addo, my next destination. Completely forgetting that a good number of the Biker Dozen resides in Queenstown.
Luckily, Mac, social media savvy, quickly facebooked me and we would have a mini reunion. Late afternoon arrival into Queenstown to meet Mac and his wonderful wife Dot. The puppies as well. After greetings, Mac swung by the airfield to give me a bird’s-eye view of Queenstown in this LSA (Light-Sport Aircraft). What a view, and gave me some ideas for the future. Can you imagine doing this trip from the air, how spectacular would that be? Plotting and scheming…..
After the fly over we stopped at the local pub to have a mini reunion with some of the Biker Dozen. Mac of course, Peter, Mark and JT. JT had already left when I met the boys in Botswana. What a good group of guys. So glad I had the opportunity to see them again. And apparently a certain purple shirt picture made the presentation, lol! Thank you again Mac and Dot for your warm welcome and all your kindness.
Mac had mapped out scenic routes through passes for me and my upcoming drives. Addo Elephant Park was next.
Addo was wonderful, overcast mornings, hot days and cool nights. Perfect for camping. As it is an Elephant Park Dung Beetles will have the right of way. But the Shongololo’s, well they took over some roads. There was no way to pass without running some of the millipedes over. Waiting them out didn’t work as they kept coming. At least the birds would be well fed.
You can also walk freely through out the camp at Addo. They have a nice trail walk which is the perfect opportunity to stalk sunbirds. Really get close to nature outside the comfort of the vehicle. A nice change.
From Addo, thanks to Mac’s suggestions I headed to Prince Alfred Pass and a quick-lunch stop at Angie’s G Spot restaurant (G stands for great) and I even met Angie. I was to continue on Scenic Route 62 to Ron’s Sex shop restaurant before making my way across to the ferry to Malgas, just outside De Hoop. Time got away from me and had to ditch Ron’s and the second half of the scenic route, sadly, but glad I did as I just made the ferry. Man powered ferry that stops at 5:30, I showed up at 5. Close one.
De Hoop, the original plan was to be there for the flower explosion like Namaqualand, a must see. But as deportation put a wrench in the plan, the bloom was long over. But the park is along the ocean with beautiful white dunes. More Blesbok and Hartmann’s Zebra.
From De Hoop a short drive to Agulhas and the Southern Most Point of Africa. It wasn’t until I read the sign that it dawned on me. I have driven from Cape Town to north of the equator and back down to the southern most point of the continent 60,000+ KM. What a journey it has been. And Agulhas is beyond. I have stayed in many Sanparks camps but these Chalets were epic.
I had just unloaded some much-needed groceries and sat down on the deck when the birds just started coming. How was I to get anything done with the bird show on my porch?
I woke the next morning to a Sunbird chorus. This lovely little guy decided to sing me awake, through the cup of coffee and the morning meeting.
Eventually the Sunbird flew and energy restored a beach walk was in order. Just a quick jaunt to get the lay of the land for the days activities.
A fantastic couple days spent on the beach. Now for a long drive to the Kgalagadi via Namaqualand followed by the Karoo before finishing the journey where it started. Coming full circle back to Cape Town.
Swaziland, more lush green as far as the eye can see. Hlane National Park was my first spot. Still not sure how I feel about this one. After being in large parks were a fence is seen mainly at the entrance gate it was different. On a map it looks rather substantial in size, next to a major highway. Not an issue. That park, however, is divided into three pens. One for general game, one for endangered species and one for lions. Poaching, was the reason given for the divide. And the only way to see the lions is on a drive. Again, seeing lions is always wonderful. But seeing them next to a fence line, taunted by the animal on the other side, I’m not sure how I feel about that. Nor that you must be driven in to see them. It raises a few questions. When asked how they control the population a generic response was given again not sure how to feel about that either.
The bats in reception were pretty cool as was a German couple I ran into. As hot as it was driving around was wonderful but not as nice as just sitting at the bird hide. Even if the herbivores outnumbered the birds. Also, great spot for a quick siesta.
Off to Mkhaya Game Reserve a couple of days later. Here is when GPS and maps can lead you astray. As far as either is concerned a road with a dry riverbed crossing will take you to the main gate. But in reality the road turns into a path with turns into an impassable thorny bushveld. Right, 300 point turn and let’s try the other sort of road. Nope even thicker even faster. Then a lovely local gentleman runs up to the car and states bluntly, you are lost. Well yes. He laughed, as this is a normal occurrence he tells me. He hops in the car and shows me the way. After a little way I felt bad as he would have to walk all the way back. We managed to figure out the rest of the way for me to go. He said keep going to the tar road and turn left immediately after the railroad. I offered him an ice-cold Coca Cola I had just purchased as a thank you, having nothing else. He gladly took it and began his way back.
Right tar road, check, railroad turning left check, cross the river and up yes a gate. And no! Locked with a sign saying you must have prearranged a pick-up. Um, well ok. Let’s go back to the main road surely there is another way in, this can’t be it, right?
On the way to the locked gate I had passed a nice looking vehicle with obvious tourists parked next to a pseudo brick shack, aka shop. Pulling in right next to them and I asked if they knew how to get in. Lovely Brit family, laughed and said someone is coming to pick them up. Wait pick you up but can’t we drive in? Is this not a self-drive park? Nope. So it goes thusly. You call, they come and get you at one of two appointed times. You then park your vehicle in a secure lot and they drive you into the secure reserve. Unless you are the bakkie and too big then you get to follow into the park and be left at an undisclosed safe location within said park. And a game drive to the camp. I had no idea I was not only not camping, but game drives and food, jackpot! A break from the grilled cheese.
All I knew about Mkhaya is that it is known for Turaco’s and bush babies, neither of which I managed to see. Of course. The drive to the camp was wonderful, birds and white rhino. The camp also boasts a bird hide. So pretty. The rooms have no real walls. They are half walls and only three sides with thatched roofs. Apparently that’s what people visit the camp for. Huh, had no idea. But the scorpions, spiders etc were awesome. The “room” is amazing. Nyala roam throughout the camp as do the crested guinea fowls.
I quickly unloaded the backpack and camera bag I had grabbed from the bakkie as that’s all we could take, also a surprise. And off to the bird hide, even forgot about lunch until one of the lovely ladies came to get me. The staff was beyond kind and thoughtful. Absolutely a gem. I managed to pick up my first round of paper tics. The tics here are not like in North America, no Lyme disease, and these little guys are a pest. Only one had latched on but between the toes. Really. Flip Flops are no match for them. After diligently plucking the bastards off and dousing my feet in deet there were no further issues and good news no tic bite fever either.
The sunset drive was spectacular. Birds and lizards and rhino’s. We had been looking for a Black Rhino but managed to spot White Rhino instead. And had an impromptu Rhino walk. Getting within meters of two lovely Rhinos. One was well-known to the guide. About 10 years ago the reserve had many adult and baby rhino in a boma (pen) getting accustomed to their new home. Poachers being the scum of the earth they are snuck in and opened fire. Fish in a barrel, even the babies, to get the little tiny horns these youngsters had. This was one of the survivors, she has a paralyzed ear.
And shortly there after we came upon Mbeya another of the baby survivors. Only this one was hand raised as her mother was killed and she was far to young to survive on her own. She recognizes our guide and gets all too close. Gives the Landie a nice gentle tap. That horn is massive and she gets within centimeters and I mean centimeters with it to say hello. Visions of impalings flashed briefly. But she was very gentle, curious undoubtedly. As soon as the guide says she’s to close she backs off gently and shows off her youngster and away she goes. Amazing. What a day.
The following morning we have our Black Rhino. And notice the beak the most obvious difference between the two. After breakfast quick drive back to the bakkie and back on the road to a little secret of South Africa, Tembe Elephant Park, hopefully some old Tuskers too.
Oh Tembe! One night, alas, in this amazing place. I was in love from the first road sign, Dung Beetles have the right of way. The heat continues but at least now I have a fan. Mkhaya had a gentle breeze to take the edge off and an industrial sized fan. Yay! The food was wonderful too. Again surprised with the game drives. It’s nice not having to drive, watch the road and watch for everything else as well. Gives one the Queen of Sheba feeling, briefly, albeit. And a large Tusker, in addition to the usual suspects and birds. There are not too many of these giants left. A small number here and in Kenya. Tembe or a third of it is only open to humans, the remaining section is uninhabited wildlife preserve. Perfect.
A quick stopover and off to Hluhluwe in the morning. A redo for sure.
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi NP. The weather started to change shortly after arriving. It was hot as ever and as usual I was requesting a map. It’s dual purpose, a map of course and a souvenir. But change was the issue, the gate-keeper had no change or none he was willing to part with and the change I wasn’t willing to part with. A stale-mate. A car drives up to the gate. Idea, perhaps these random strangers will have change. They do, and turns out not strangers. Jude and Mary were at Tembe as well. Change in hand, map was doled out. Free ones were given at the campsite, d’oh! It happens. But as luck shall have it the change fiasco was needed for Jude, Mary and I’s run in. They were not able to get to the camp as the gate keeper was making a rather large fuss about the lack of water and number control etc. Something wasn’t quite right with that. Mary had the number for the campsite and once a whiff of cell reception was obtained I called the front desk. Sure they can come up, not a problem. Interesting. The gate keeper was less than impressed and more papers had to be printed etc etc. Oh the little papers. Anyway off we went. Slow climb to the hilltop abode. A quick sunset drive, dinner and plans to self drive as a group in the morning. Thank you Jude for being the driver. It was wonderful to be a passenger. The rains came and the rivers swelled and easy crossings became hard stops. Rightfully so, you may cross one but if the rain started again you’d be stuck. We had a wonderful day full of birds. Started with Trumpeter Hornbills, on mass flying overhead and calling like mad. A couple grooming each other. Well it was Valentine’s Day so I guess the birds were in on it. My over enthusiasm for birds was happily accepted by the lovely UK ladies, cousins in fact. It was a wonderful day. Buffalo, warthogs, rhino’s just a plethora of animals. But no spotted dangly legs for Jude. Maybe in the morning. We had lions on the sunset drive but no leopard.
The sky cleared the next morning as we ventured forth. A quick morning self drive before returning to pack things up and head south. I was back in Springbok and the ladies in their vehicle. We continued into the middle of the park were it turns into Umfolozi, I would exit and Mary and Jude would explore the southern regions. Mammals were abundant in the morning hoping they saw those spotted dangly legs. Alas, the last thing seen before I exited the park was a stark reminder of man’s greed. Rhino poach in the distance. This I will never understand. And a sad end to a wonderful two days. Mary and Jude thank you again for a being utterly kind and humouring my birding and for wonderful two days. Safe travels.
Durban for a quick stop and off to the Southern Drakensberg and Lake Naverone.