This past weekend the Perseid Meteor Shower graced out presence. Alas, the moon rise was rather quick and bright. It was my first attempt at photographing a meteor shower (steep learning curve, lol). The first night was rather slow, shooting star wise but the following night was amazing with grandiose meteor tails. We even had a glimpse of the Northern Lights, including the “xylophone” formation. Thanks Shan and Val for two fun nights of star gazing.
Not quite the African Savannah but a quick weekend trip to Jasper and Banff for Father’s Day yielded some wonderful sightings.
A nice morning to visit the Glacier Skywalk over Sunwapta Valley. If you can brave the glass-bottomed walkway the views are spectacular.
Plenty animals can be seen even if you do not have time to go hiking. Numerous lakes and rivers to stop at. Now if you could remember to stay in your car as these are wild animals and not pets, especially the bears. Never ceases to amaze me when people get out of their vehicles to get a better look or picture or what have you and it’s a Grizzly. Sheesh.
And it was a successful day for bear sighting as well.
Cape Town, the last stop on this epic sojourn. After emptying Springbok of his contents or rather mine, he was ready to be released back into his natural habitat, lol! It was sad letting those keys go for the last time. That four-wheeled wonder will be missed greatly.
The first day was spent strolling about town before Lion’s Head. The climb to the top of Lion’s Head is not an easy task. It’s deceptive at first glance and stroll along the steep grated walkway. The false sense of a leisurely outing soon takes over as you gallivant scoping out all the marvelous views of Cape Town below. Then the rock path begins, not to arduous a few high steps but doable. Totally piece of cake, lol. Then the bouldering begins and the straight up bouldering with steps made for giants and not the wee hobbits of this land. Breathing gets heavy as does the bloody pack with all the camera gear that should have been left behind, honestly. Then a plateau and you think awesome, a little arduous but look at that view we made it. Until you look up at the next mountain climb. Now this seems utterly unfair. Trust me it is well worth the sweat. Pack extra water and some snacks. If you are anything like me a little hypoglycemia can end the whole hike. Almost did, luckily an orange was packed midst the camera gear. The view is spectacular. Granted the drone flying in my face on the last push was less than appealing and choice words were had with its owner, not by me mind you, I was too busy catching my breath. It left rather abruptly and was never seen again.
The way down is as taxing but you can always bum down the high steps. Cold drinks for sale at the parking lot. The trip up was not certain. The Tour de Cape Town was the weekend I arrived in Cape Town. An international bike race which brings thousands of racers, families and supporters. The ridiculously strong winds cancelled the race. But died down enough the next day for a climb up. But now your surrounded by some of the fittest people in the world bounding up the trek without a care in the world as I’m sucking and gasping for breath. Need more cardio, lol! That night I sampled one of the many amazing restaurants in town. It is becoming a foodie haven.
Having spent the race day walking around the wharf and the following up Lion’s Head it was time to go to Table Mountain. A beautiful foggy day. One of my favourite times to visit the mountain top. The mist envelopes the giant rock formation and all its inhabitants but as the as the sun rises so does the mist, revealing a new world and of course birds. Rare soul was met hiking around for hours and out to Maclear’s Beacon.
The birds awoke with the dispelling mist and the Proteas opened up. Wonderful trek to the beacon. I may have chased after a bird or two. Habits. Round the mountain top and along its edge to head back to the start. As I was heading down the onslaught of tourists began. Perfect time to make my exit. A wonderful day indeed.
The few days in this wonderful city quickly flew by and the only thing to do on the last day is to go to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. My feet went on strike after being forced into hiking shoes that didn’t quite fit. This was the perfect place to let them feel the grass between the toes and enjoy in the freedom of no shoes. The garden is nestled in the lower slopes of Table Mountain. Also are the starting and ending points for some of the hikes up. It was a very very hot day early on. Grateful to have done the hiking the day prior with the overcast, cooler weather.
So that’s that… 8+ months, ~65 thousand kilometers, 10+ countries and one deportation, lol. It was truly been an epic journey one that is hard to put to words. The whole experience still seems surreal.
I have learned a lot, not just about myself but about us…humans, bipeds, people, whichever term you’d prefer. All in all we are good. It’s easy to forget today in the modern world that blasts negative depictions daily if not hourly but we are genuinely good. I have gone to some very remote areas alone and relied on complete and utter strangers to get through it all. I having met some amazing people, formed live long friendships and of course found new places to visit.
Thanks to each and every one of you for making this journey as amazing as it has been. Thanks to my friends (old and new) and my family for putting up with my endless gallivanting and South Africa 4×4 for my iron steed, Springbok.
As for me…well, in the end, the bear (A.A. Milnes Winnie the Pooh) was right “you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, & smarter than you think.”
So, thanks for following along on this wonderful jaunt through sub-Saharan Africa. The journey does not end here. Just a pause to rebuild the funds, lol! Until next time.
P.S. Pop in from time to time. I will have more things posted from local travels and of course prints, once I’ve gone through the mountain of pics. There is a photo book coming as well and maybe a little something else too. Time will tell. And as always if you are planning a trip of your own and would like insight or help just drop me a line.
After the wonderful sighting of the Cheetah family, in the Kgalagadi, it was time to head for The Karoo via Augrabies Falls. The heat, relentless. Upon my arrival, barley checked in for camping, my assistance was needed. Someone had missed a step, along the path, and broken their foot or something. Details were sketchy. The front desk hurried us down the path. We came upon a lovely family and their mum in obvious pain. The park guides had already splinted her foot. Pretty well done, I might add. She needed x-rays and pain killers. Nothing that could be done there. Not much for me to do.
Augrabies Falls is like a mini Niagra Falls midst the rocky outcrops. The walk about is not particularly taxing with the ped-ways but those steps are meant for giants! Somewhat vertically challenged, I know, but even those towering above me had some issue navigating those lower steps.
There is also a reserve for one’s viewing pleasure. No walking safaris were available at the time. It’d be a nice place to do one, I’d wager. Driving slowly into camp and finding the best spot with shade trees, my eyeballs were melting. It was hot and humid. I peeled myself from the front seat and hiked back to the restaurant which had AC, as did the check-in office. I loitered for a little bit to cool off and catch up on blogging, before deciding to sign up for a night drive.
The heat lingered into the evening. It began to abate half way through the night drive. The night sky surrounding the outcrops with an occasional Klipspringer and three different types of hares (Cape, Scrub and Red Rock) far too quick for photos. The stars were out in full force and my fellow passengers from Spain were enjoying the evening as much as I. And then we get a flat. Not only a flat but a flat on a bus that had just been in the garage and thus no wheel spanner. A spare was on the bus but no way to remove the flat tire. We were now stranded waiting for another bus to come and get us. 30+ minutes under the starry wonder to ponder life’s secrets. I relished the moment. The Spaniards were missing their drinks. A very late return to the camp but at least the heat had finally dissipated to make the night more tolerable for sleeping in a roof top tent with thick canvas and nigh zero air flow.
The guide, the previous night, mentioned they had a healthy leopard population and pointed to a spot on the map that was known for frequent sightings early in the morning. Getting up that early after a late night was not easy but it was done. Alas no Leopards.
The drive about was pleasant until the sun rose and the heat, hotter than the day prior, set it sights on melting all life forms off the earth. After a few hours driving my heat capacity was breached. Returning to camp and walking about the falls seemed more tolerable, not by much mind you. But I wasn’t melting into the bakkie at least.
The heat continued to rise, easily in the 40 celsius with no wind. I cracked. I did. The thought of having to sleep in the tent through this type of heat was not enticing at all. I upgraded to a room with AC. A weak moment but oh so splendid. Safari Karma must balance things out, however. Find the last room with AC, sure, want water to go with that room, not a chance. Yup. The whole camp was without water. The pump had been flooded due to rains somewhere up the way. They worked diligently but the water was not available until late into the night and then was still a little murky. But the AC was marvelous.
The drive from Augrabies to The Karoo would be 800 or so KM the next morning. Waking early to get a head start, packed and ready, my plans were thwarted with a flat. I drove gingerly to the petrol station a few meters away. It would not open for another hour. Fine. Took out the jack, and started on the lug nuts. The first 2 had me going nowhere. All my body weight wouldn’t budge those suckers. Eventually enough blood was spilt and the universe allowed them to turn. Yay. Tire off. Water poured to find a leak. Wait what, no leak. Then why is it flat? It was full last night. Pump it up with the air compressor in the back and it looks good. Slowly it becomes squishy again. All this took about an hour and the gentleman working at the garage arrived. He used his compressor and we poured more water and even got down on our knees, ears pressed close to the tire, to find the bloody leak. No obvious leak. He thinks it’s a rim leak. Not much I can do to fix that. Punctures sure, rim leak no way.
We managed to get the spare tire down, not an easy feat as the hook is hard to hook in the slot to drop the tire. But we got it down and I got the spare on and loaded the flat tire in the back. Now two hours have gone by and I still needed to fix this tire and drive that distance. On the bright side the arm workout was excellent!
About 30 minutes outside the falls I came upon a small town of Kakamas and Dunlop Tyre. I popped in and asked if they could help me out. As I stood, the mountain of tires with punctures kept piling up. It’s harvest season for raisins. Chatting away with one of the farmers, he explained, it’s Monday and all the harvest equipment for all the farms will undoubtedly have punctures from the weekends harvest, making Monday a very busy day. Regardless the tire burden the tyre shop had my rim leak fixed, and the tire back on the front wheel and the spare back in its place rather quickly. What’s best, when asked where to pay, I received a smile and told it was on them. How wonderful is that. So Dunlop Tyre in Kakamas thank you for your wonderful hospitality. I was quickly back on my way heading to the last park, The Karoo.
The Karoo is a little hidden gem off a major highway nestled amongst The Great Escarpment. This would be the last stop before Cape Town. Karoo beautiful. A bird hide, and fossil trails and plenty to see. The camp was sprawled and very nice with many pleasant campers. No night drive, they had a minimum of 4 people and well it’s just me. Maybe something the next day. The evening came quickly and the giant tortoises roamed the camp. There would be plenty to drive the next day. The last full day of 4×4 driving. The escarpment made the nights cooler and definitely more pleasant to venture into dreamland than the falls. I plopped the tripod and camera on the roof of the bakkie and tried my hand at night captures. Good thing as the next night would be too cloudy.
Early start to catch the sunrise midst the escarpment. The landscape is fantastic, making driving slow, enjoyable and honestly fun. The 4×4 sections were not very taxing and just fun to drive. It was a great way to spend my last couple days with Springbok doing what we did best, getting lost.
The various passes through the park offered different perspective. Klipspring was the windiest, steepest and funnest of them all. The further you venture into the park you can see Hartmann’s Zebra, Eland and Springbok. Supposedly there is Aardwolf, Brown Hyena and Caracal but none that I could find. Still it was a fabulous place to finish this 4×4 adventure.
I may have spent 9+ hours driving around and grinning like a Cheshire cat. I treated myself to a nice dinner at their restaurant and even managed to get a sunrise drive. The last game drive of the trip. Enough people had finally signed up. A wonderful evening. The morning drive was early and relaxing. No great sightings and I don’t even think my camera came out. I just breathed it all in, tried to ingrain every sight, sound and smell into my sensorium for eternity.
Leaving The Karoo was bittersweet. I was looking forward to Cape Town and hiking Lion’s Head and Table Mountain but saying good-bye to the bush was hard. It feels so comfortable and comforting with endless little surprises. I could stay there forever. It was time to go, I made one last loop through the one paved track on the way out and headed for the metropolis that is Cape Town.
Rather delayed but it has been difficult trying to write the last few blogs as that would mean this adventure has come to an end. Not quite ready to admit its finality, lol.
Regardless, this one is loquacious. So grab a cup of your favourite beverage and here we go.
I last left you in Agulhas heading to the Kgalagadi via Namaqualand. I had hoped to do the drive during the flower phase of the Namaqualand but I made it for the scrubby brown bush phase. Pseudoscenic leading to the dry desert area full of red dunes that is the Kgalagadi. My last chance to see Aardwolf, Aardvark, Brown Hyena, Serval and Meerkats. Surely this would the place.
The temperatures continued to rise for the long haul drive before approaching the first camp. Now the Kgalagadi is a very popular park. Many book 11+ months in advance. I was happy to have 5 days even if they were spread out. Twee Rivieren would be the first camp and the only place with guides to do game drives. So much for my nocturnal animal list.
Armed with a camera trap in hopes of maybe catching one of these elusive night critters. A more remote campsite was chosen and marked by leaving a table behind. The universal sign of occupancy in the bush. And off to the park for a quick gander. It quickly became apparent why they tell you to deflate your tires a bar or more. The corrugations were back, with sand, and no real escape for many stretches of the park. Once at the park I realized that you can book, many months in advance, and drive the eco trails or even the one way routes that would require a convoy, taking you into the more remote areas. Next time. Add it to the ever-growing redo list.
The afternoon was blistering hot, not much shade but it was nice to be in the bush again. The smell of dried out pans and all the babies full of the joy of life. An evening game drive turned out to be rather fortuitous and a nice way to start this adventure off.
Apart from the usual suspects, Dikkops and Scrub Hares frozen in the headlights, an African Wild Cat was spotted. But this one was not shy at all. He hung around for quite some time. Unsure why he was so at ease with the game bus, yup the bus was back, until he went into stalk mode. He had his eyes on something. With a quick pounce we soon realized he was not a smart kitty at all. A large King Cobra quickly reared up and shot its venom. It all happened so quickly. The cat kept at the snake who quickly fled to a tree near by. The cat persisted until the cobra fled. Wow.
Not a bad start to a windy, cool evening. Shortly, after that wonderful sighting, another snake, a rather glutinous Puff Adder. Whatever he had feasted on made him rather sluggish and well-rounded or oblong.
Snake night it is. It has been far to long since I’ve had a good snake sighting. Soon to be followed by a Barn Owl and a new mammal – Cape Fox. Very cute little guy similar to a jackal but fluffier tail. And the Puff Adder once more on the way back to camp, he really had no motivation to move.
Dawn chorus was early the next morning as we ventured north to Nossob camp, home for 2 nights. Camera trap managed to get a jackal, or rather the head of a jackal and the butt end. Hopefully, tonight will be better.
Ambling towards the next camp a plethora of cars were stopped up a head. Great start to a day, must be a cat of some sorts. Sure enough two male lions, or three. And the back two were skinny with their back bones showing. Definitely in need of a meal. They also seemed less than impressed with the leader of the coalition. Taking many rests and ignoring his calls. Trouble is brewing. Perhaps a failed coup?
And soon they flopped down, all under their own respective tree. With the tall grasses not a hair could be seen. Time to move on.
Next was this little guy practicing his Tinder profile picture, lol.
Quickly followed by this little one, he was barely the size of my hand.
And nap time, just before the rest stop this kindergarten class taking its required nap. Everything was under or in a tree as per usual on these blistering days.
After a much-needed bladder stop I noticed a large flock of birds circling. But not the usual vultures. Medium to small-sized birds, 20-30 circling and diving. Time to go and investigate. There must have been an emergence of some sort of flying insect, all these birds were loving it. Hawking their breakfast, lunch and dinner. Such close passes around the bakkie. Not caring at all, I could have reached up and touched many of them. Astonishing. The Juvenile Lanner Falcon was the most numerous bird.
I watched the feast close to an hour. People drove past me probably thinking I was crazy but it was so cool watching them do all these mid-air maneuvers to catch the bugs. And eating them whilst in flight. Pretty freaking awesome in my book.
Many of the waterholes were dry, even those with solar pumps. A puddle or two could be found surrounded by my avian friends.
The night was unsuccessful for the camera trap and for the remainder of the days too.
Early rise to explore around the northern aspect of the park just shy of the border. A little confused as the exit north was behind the camp not readily visible. The gate for the front gate was the wrong choice, I realized after a wee amble. The faint call of a lion, the night prior, was towards the north. Sure enough these beautiful boys show up.
The heat grew from the early morning. And of course on a hot day with no shade in sight a Cheetah is sighted, or two. Under a tree of course and they quickly flop down. I tried to wait them out but after 3 hours in the searing heat with no AC and only my own musings to keep me sane, I cracked and moved on.
A beautiful day, hot yes but the clouds ever so fluffy dotted about the wild blue yonder.
The next day started cooler, heading West. Skirting the Botswana border for a couple of days. The park encompasses South Africa, Botswana and a dash of Namibia. A rock formation or mound separates the countries. Off to Mata Mata, the place for Meerkats. There is even a troupe in the camp ground. The clouds gathered as I drove, made the day pleasant, temperature wise.
Overcast skies and wind makes prey rather skittish and even harder to find. The day was growing dark and windy. And before I reached camp thunder and lightning in the distance. It chased us all to camp and then abated. Temporarily. Not much was out on such a day but a few made their appearance, briefly.
The Mata Mata camp has a bird hide, a quick look revealed an injured hyena wading in the waterhole. He tried to hide as the water laden clouds rolled in. He hid under a tree as the first torrential down pour came. Luckily after siting down briefly in the bird hide, the thunder rumbled quite menacingly enticing me to go set up camp. Moments later heading back to the bird hide the deluge was unleashed. Sadly, it was over rather quickly. The dry parched land soaked up every drop. The birds gathered. It was only a few minutes later when the real storm hit. Lightening strikes all too close. Made me glad to be next to a tall tree, not under it as a roof top tent is quite high. The rain came from every which way. The bird hide, the only other place apart from the bakkie to hide, now became a wet prison. The wind blew the rain 360 degrees, there was not a dry spot to stand in and hide. Sopping wet after 30 minutes of torrential rain I scuttled back to the bakkie. Camera safely nestled and dry. Priorities, lol!
And that’s when the fun started. The camp was now a lake. I was on one island safe and dry, or so I thought, in my roof top tent. The ground tents were swimming in inches of water. We gathered shovels and started to dig trenches for the water to flow into the field away from camp. I helped my neighbours out, honestly I was worried one of them might have a heart attack from all the digging so I offered. An hours worth of digging and the water started to flow. In the late evening the rains started again and continued into the wee hours.
Comforted by a dry tent I snuggled in for a cool night of sleep. Shortly after falling asleep I was rudely awakened by an ice-cold drop of water. Turns out the tent is water-resistant but the saturation point was reached, at least along the seams. None of which you can avoid and sleep comfortably. Could be worse, could be completely soaked. I managed to zig zag myself so even if the drops dropped, my head would not be their target. Nestled in again, by now well past midnight. Enter stage two of sleep deprivation. The lone lion.
The rain had stopped, at last. Now all the scent marks and boundary markers of the predators had been erased. He wanted all in the land to know this was his land. It’s been far to long since I’ve heard the full power of a male lion roar. He went on for a couple of hours. I could hear him circling his area as he marched roaring about every 15 minutes. He stopped just before sunrise.
By morning the rain gave way to a beautiful dawn sunrise. There was no evidence that such an unleashing occurred, apart from the trenches. Tired and somewhat sleep deprived I made my way back to Twee Rivieren for the last night in this amazing park. Needless to say the rain prevented any Meerkat sighting. I had one more day to try to see the desert animals, and it wasn’t looking very promising.
Back to the south and Twee, a slow going journey to enjoy every last moment this enchanting place had to offer. I may not have seen what I had hoped for thus far but what I saw instead was just as awe-inspiring. And the best was yet to come.
Ambling slowly as not to miss anything and because those corrugations were on my last nerve I came upon this little cutie. The morning was cool and the sun was just starting to heat us all up.
That cuteness gave way to a parade of vehicles and a beast of a lioness. The camera lenses that would give anyone an inferiority complex were everywhere. We all took turns playing lead car and following her on her journey. It took some time but I had finally maneuvered into the front and I had a feeling she would drink at a large pan that sprang up after last nights rain. Hurrying, as one can going 10 KMH, to get to the perfect spot. Eventually she had enough and crossed the road and over the hill.
On a natural high after being that close to such large lioness drinking it NEVER gets old.
Slowly making my way I next came upon this big guy. It stopped me in my tracks. I mean I’ve seen them down before but those are usually the babies. This guy was just chilling.
A little ways down the rest of the Journey emerged.
Rains bring out the birds especially if the sun is out the following morning. This morning was no exception.
The Twee camp had not seen any of the rain we had the night before, not even a drop. The roads went from muddy and soggy to a dusty mess. Last night in this amazing park and a night drive seemed the way to commemorate the evening. Probably one of my favourite game drives to date. We had an older guide, nearing 60 I’d wager. There are many ruins from settlers in the park and his great-uncle, if I’m remembering correctly, was born in one of those preserved stone homes. He was amazing. We went down the flora, fauna tour and we ate wild cucumbers and learned about Devil’s Claw and wild flowers and trees and all those little things I love to learn about. And then that sunset, a fantastic way to end my time in the park.
We arrived back at camp, a rather full camp, in the dark. I had forgotten my head torch and only had my UV light aka scorpion finder to get back to camp. Turns out this was rather fortunate. These windy nights bring out the scorpions. They are hard to see in the dark even with a good spot light, but this UV light was quite useful. The scorpions glow, full body glow as they race towards you. It’s an unsettling feeling, walking in the dark with these glow bugs racing towards you, pincers up ready to vanquish anything they cross. No need to worry I made it back in one piece.
The final morning, the plan was to sleep in and head out and to Augrabies Falls en route to The Karoo. I couldn’t resist going in for just a few more hours one last time.
Slow start with a few birds and the usual Wildebeest walking the pans. Reaching the predetermined marker, I turned around and headed for the exit or I’d have never left. On the way up there had a been a herd of Springbok and one rather pregnant and uncomfortable Springbok. On the way back I saw her in the distance. She lay behind a bush. There is always a bush, even in the middle of nowhere, whenever you want to see something amazing. Shortly, this little guy emerged. I may not have seen the actual birth but I saw the first steps and suckling. Beyond words.
Nothing could be better than a new-born. Still excited I was flagged down by a passing vehicle as is the custom to share possible sightings on the road you’ve come from. New born Springbok, I shared enthusiastically. Not a flinch from this lovely couple. Theirs ought to be good if the newborn didn’t render a response. Cheetah! They actually saw the hunt, in front of their car. If I hurry, she’s still eating and has cubs. The dust was blowing behind me before they could finish that sentence, lol!
Now this is how you end your time in an amazing reserve. Kgalagadi, you may not have given me what I had hoped to see but this is beyond what I could have hoped for. Here’s hoping the Karoo will provide as well.
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.
Greetings from L’Agulhas the southern most point of Africa. Let’s see if I can attempt to catch up. Or at least post once ;p
The drive back to Kruger and the Orpen Gate was far too quick. The heat descended at first light and everything was far too hot. The herds looked forlorn under trees. Even the birds had had enough. The drive to Skukuza would take most of the day at my ambling pace. Quick stop at Satara for an iced coffee and away we go. It’s really good. A spoil. Not soon after, this poor beastie was up in a tree trying to get any semblance of a breeze. That full gut did not help.
The following morning I opted for a rare sunrise drive. Usually, I’m out the gate as soon as possible but this is a chance to get out there before the gate is officially open. The humidity and heat of the day prior cast a haze upon the savannah. A quiet morning until, up ahead, the guide spots a leopard ducked in the grass. Gorgeous young female leopard with just her head showing in the dew covered grass. Poised for the ultimate shot when someone jumped right in front of the lens. So not only did that rapid movement scare the leopard off, I know had a fuzzy picture of a human shoulder. It happens, enthusiasm for ones first leopard, it’s allowed. Although had the enthusiasm gone forward it’d have been even better, lol!
And so the day of butts began. Again an unbelievable hot day scorched the land and every leopard that could be found was up a tree. Two in particular, in addition to the morning leopardess. The first was wedged in the fork of a tree. The abundance of safari vehicles made it difficult to get a pic. Once the clear shot was possible the leopard repositioned with a booty shot being the only view. Ok, how about we drive up the road to the other leopard. This one had been scared off by an over zealous viewer. Luckily a kind passerby mentioned a pack of wild dogs under a large Marula tree taking a siesta not to far off. Love those wild dogs. But yet again too many viewers and the nature of wild dogs to run and yet again a butt shot. And that’s pretty much how the day went.
Bird hide seemed like the best option given the proclivity of the quadrupeds to show their derrieres. Plus it was refuge from the sun. A nice breeze blew through the hide. Few people came and went but the birds eventually appeared. The hippos serenaded off to the east. The odd contact call from the Black Crake, Cuckoo’s and a hungry Great Heron all made an appearance with a shy Green-Head Pigeon. Sometimes sitting still is the best answer.
It was time for a night drive. By far my favourite, being out after dark. Alas, many had the same idea. Our number no longer fit into a safari vehicle we now had a safari bus. It rumbles and makes all sorts of noise sure to scare off anything it comes upon. Except the scrub hares they are drawn to the lights like a moth. Well the butts continued. Civet scurried off as did well everything else. Luckily, the guide knew the location of a Hyena den. Yay! These spotted monsters are too much fun and at this age they are far too curious about the vehicle.
Once the tire chewing commenced it was time for us to scuttle off. And we came upon a single male lion not too long after. Meandering young male that ran off far to quickly and showing, yes, his heine. As we headed back down the road I spotted something cross the road ahead in the dark. I recognized the shape but thought no, it can’t be, could it? The guide quickly came to the same conclusion as the speed increased. In some hysterics we careened towards it. We were the only two to spot it, eventually we were able to get the spot lights on it and yes PANGOLIN. This was the guides first in her career. And of course mine as well. Midst the frantic chaos the camera kept shooting, how anything came out in focus is a mystery. I had climbed as high as I could on the bus to get a shot through the tall grass. No apologies needed as long as I shared the photos. Not a problem. Everyone was able to see and few even managed cell phone pics. The bush doled out its balance, nothing but butts equals an epic sighting. Next mission, photograph the whole thing, lol!
The next morning I headed to lower Sabie and the heat persisted.
Then there was the tired and somewhat suicidal Nightjar. It had parked itself in the middle of the road. Very well blended in, almost missed it which means those traveling faster will hit it. It was too tired to care. Eyes closed, whatever man. And that’s when I broke Kruger rules. Never leave the car. I think this one was warranted. Feeling like the utter criminal I checked the surroundings for beasties, hopped out and shooed it into the brush. There you go, law breaker, lol! Couple thumbs up from the local guides made it seem legit. And as the night prior the bush balances.
Around the corner a small herd of elephants with a wee little one still wobbly. Mum came right close, as they were next to the road. I felt very protective of this herd and made sure the cars coming around the corner slowed down as not to startle the young mum and her kin. Peacefully eating, young one trying desperately to get his trunk to pick up a Marula fruit, only to throw grass on his head. I sat until they had finished, matriarchs deep rumble resonated and off into the thicket they went. Nice! A drive to the local large watering hole for an elephant pool party far off in the distance, was next. And with a hurried retreat to Lower Sabie I came across the behemoths of the savannah.
All was great until two young bulls, had to have a tussle and scared one of the Rhino into a straight line charge for Springbok and I. Right down the road, hurdling towards us and no possibility for a reversal as a safari vehicle had me blocked. And then skid stop, about 2 meters away, and back to grazing. Underwear change needed! Teenage boys, whether man or beast, always causing a ruckus. That was close.
The following morning cooler weather started to make its way into the Kruger. Not much but a nice relief. The bush had other ideas that morning, I travelled barely 10 km in over an hour. It was the elephant crossing day. From the across the river, up the banks and across the road. Droves of them, one row after another, giving a start stop approach. Slow slow morning. And then a musth bull showing of his prowess. He did something I hadn’t seen before, he kneeled down to pull a branch off. It was unusual. Then ripping it off to show his power. He had plenty space from me but the other vehicles, at least in my opinion, where being a little to risky with the likes of an unpredictable musth bull. Plenty videos, once I’ve glued and cut etc. I will post. In reality once I’m home, if I’m being honest. Finally, the road was clear only to screech again for a crossing tortoise. The vehicles behind were just as happy to get going only to be flagged as not to crush the tortoise.
Road crossed in one piece and off again we go. Wait what’s that, is that, no, increase speed do not stall do not stall, clutch dammit girl, clutch. And YES!!! Two leopards, bush balance, safe a Leopard Tortoise get mating Leopards. Love it! They were walking straight down the road and quickly to the side bush, mated and off behind the bush. Try as I might I never got sight of them again and only managed to get one in the shot. Driving and camera-ing not the best combo. But so epic!
I repeated the process the following morning, but no luck. Lovely dwarf mongoose as a consolation prize.
The drive yielded not just birds but these two as well. Note the size difference.
And it wouldn’t be a hot day without these lazy guys doing what they do best.
The day continued to dispense with wonderful sightings and continued into the night drive. This was probably the best I’ve had, all those things that scuttle off just sat and showed off endlessly.
And on to the last camp in Kruger, Crocodile Bridge. Now I’m going to show some pictures I don’t often post but given what’s happened lately in Thula Thula, I think a reminder of how amazing theses creatures are is in order. So prepare for Rhino-thon.
Crocodile Bridge is a small basic camp, but it has sooo many Bush Babies. And they taunted me. They’d pop out in the evening and pose right in front until the camera came up and off they went. Testing the theory, the camera stayed in primed position and they were nowhere to be found. Lower the camera and look a whole family. Cheeky buggers.
Crocodile Bridge brought on many sighting but also my allergies. I’ve had a sneeze or two through out but there was something in the dirt roads here that brought on the machine gun firing of sneezing I haven’t had since I was a kid. Pause long enough to catch my breath and to unleash again and the eyes tearing it made photography difficult. The night drive really did me in, but it was my last, and I toughed it out to be rewarded right outside camp.
Kruger lived upto its acclaim, no Cheetah but a Pangolin. Fair trade I think. Off to Swaziland and beyond.
A quick drive through the Manyeleti on limited roads for self-drive, but a nice afternoon. Spent time with a family of Southern Ground Hornbills. Couple youngsters and a sub-adult and the parents. The male tried all he could to offer his delicacy to his mate who couldn’t be bothered. He kept tailing behind her, catch up only to have her run off again. Poor guy. He kept at it though.
A nice breeding herd of Cape Buffalo wallowed briefly near a waterhole. It think they lost one of their members as the lions were unusually loud from the same direction that night with intermittent sounds of death. The circle continues.
The drive from Manyeleti to Sabi Sands and Cheetah Plains Lodge was brief. I ambled along as slowly as I could especially once in the Sabi Sands. Hardly an arduous journey. The sun was searing and no rain relief in sight. Lush and green with tall multitudes of grasses in full bloom. Dusty smell wiped up with every light gust of wind, giving just enough relief from the heat to make it tolerable. Long stretched roads and cutlines. Just as advertised.
Cheetah Plains was a little oasis. And my last and final treat for the entirety of the trip. Rondavels surrounding the main portion of the lodge. Dam side pool and wonderful staff at the ready. A dam that luckily had filled not even a month prior after a sudden torrential deluge. Now it housed at least 5-6 hippos. Sitting poolside listening to the laughing call of the hippo with the ever-busy Buffalo Weavers chattering away and fluttering at blazing speeds. Perfect place to contemplate nothing at all but the wonder beset before you or at least until the afternoon game drive.
The sunset drive, with guide extraordinaire – Andrew, was on point. Blazing heat of the sun, with the promise of relinquishing its hold, beats down upon you. Cool breeze on the back of the vehicle and a sunlit beastie before you. The pale golden pelage juxtaposed with the black-white patching of a Marula tree. Perfection.
Better yet this young leopardess is Xongile. One of two cubs to the very famous Karula. I’ve known Xongile and her twin brother Hosana since they were hours old when Brent happened upon them. And now there she is. She really is an exquisite leopard.
And tomorrow is her first birthday. I may have sung happy birthday to her, quietly, but it may have happened. We spent quite some time with the sleeping beauty until she roused, stretched and repositioned. We follow suite round the tree.
Eventually we say our good byes, round the tree and come face-to-face with none other than the Terrapin Terror himself, Hosana. Tormenting yet another Terrapin. I don’t know if he ever eats them or just carries them around, swatting at them and just traumatizing them. This one did eventually get away, once HRH (his royal highness) became bored. A couple last swats for good measure and done.
Not to long after he released the Terrapin and did a quick bout of grooming, Xongile climbed down from her perch and was now in stalk mode. The two stalked each other for a few, each popping their head up over the tall grass to see where the other was. Xongile’s poorly planned sneak attacked landed her in the pond. Forlorn but not willing to give in she continued the stalk. The reunion was quick, sweet and soon teeth and claws were barred until Xongile gave Hosana the look and allo-grooming soon began. Hosana had a limited tolerance for the tick biting technique of Xongile and soon turned his back and marched off.
The majority of the drive was spent with these two trouble makers. Hosana is much darker and has Karulas’ characteristically squat muzzle. Xongile is lighter but has a less squashed muzzle. Just gorgeous. What an afternoon.
On the way back to the lodge, we swung to the other side of the lodge dam for a special treat. One of the two Cheetah brothers made an appearance.
They had recently been split and had not yet reconnected. A quick contact call from the tallest termite mound around and he was off. And then flop onto the road for a quick dusting off, roll over, and good to go.
This drive will be hard to top. The following drives came close but birthday leopards are hard to outdo. One of the Birmingham Boy Coalition male lions made an appearance (I think Tinyo, but not sure) and a Styx Pride female. Slept as lions do.
And everything else too.
The quick stop in Sabi Sands was exceptional not only to see the Xongile and Hosana on the eve of their 1st birthday but to meet the WE crew too. These past two days have been incomparable. Alas, all good things come to an end and I’m headed back to The Kruger and continue journey south from Skukuza, Lower Sabie to Crocodile Bridge before heading to Swaziland.