Africa

Trip Start Jun 22, 2012
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Trip End Sep 28, 2012


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South Africa Kruger

Flag of South Africa  , Limpopo,
Saturday, June 16, 2012

Slowly crossing all the jobs off the list. Camera has been cleaned, ports assembled and the washing machine is sparkling.  Still lots to do but work and bird club meeting today.

Visited the Australian Pavilion at World Expo in Yeosu, Korea, via videoconference today.  Craig and I take the visitors for a dive at Reef HQ.

Friday 22nd June 2012

Had tea at Patrick's.  Patrick took us to the airport and we flew to Brisbane.  Alistair picked us up.  In bed by midnight.

Saturday 23nd June 2012

Went to Rocklea markets.  Had some pancakes.  Bought a fancy potato peeler and a beanie for Charlotte.  Went to Harvey Norman to buy new computer case.  Played with Ashlee and read lots of books.

Barbi cooked chicken and leek pie for tea.

Sunday 24th June 2012

Woke at 2:45 am.  Took taxi to Brisbane airport.  $80.00. Had to wait until  4.30 for them to open check in.  Flew to Sydney.  Changed planes.  Boeing 747 to Johannesburg.  14 hours 15 minutes.  Enough said.  Never again.  Anywhere I go after this trip will be in the Pajero.  In the back row so had aisle  seat and nice big space.  Lots of people came to pass the time there.  We could see icebergs as we flew very far south.

Arrived at Johannesburg about 5.00 pm South African time.  There was a huge queue and we waited over an hour in immigration.  Walked straight through customs through the nothing to declare door.  A porter grabbed our bags which we had piled on a trolley and escorted us through the bowels of Jo’burg air terminal to the shuttle bus to the hotel.  We were exhausted after the long day.  I think it was 1.00 am Aussie time.  We stayed at the Peermont Metport in the Emperor’s Palace group close by the airport. There were two nudes drawn in charcoal frolicking on the wall behind the bed.  Supposed to be ancient Roman.   

Monday 25th June

We had taken malaria pills over two days and I was sick as a dog.  Couldn’t eat breakfast.  Brought it up.  Another voyage through O.R.Tambo Airport to find the little Dash 8 to take us to Hoedspruit, the taking off place for the safari lodges.  After a forty minute flight, which included the longest taxiway  in history, we were met by a driver (name even spelled correctly on his sign) and he drove us to our lodge, Royal Legend, in the Timbavati reserve.

We were the only guests.  We had this great luxurious resort to ourselves.

The lodge was really nice – situated in the bush and facing a dry river bed.  The river was not so dry in January when it flooded and the dining area was about 4 feet underwater.  The roads in the Timbavati were smashed (dirt tracks) and little dams were breached everywhere.  The lodge was closed for a few months and was just getting going again.

The room was very grand with a huge bed and, during the day, the mosquito net made a grand canopy, making you feel very exotic and pampered.  At night it enveloped the bed and took some fighting to get in and out.  Besides the bedroom there was a giant bathroom with an indoor and an outdoor shower.  The shower was quite open but it was a bit too cold to use so we used the indoor shower and the spa bath (which didn’t work as the plug leaked and the water never got over the blowers but we didn’t mind and couldn’t be bothered disturbing our peace to get it fixed.)  The big uncurtained windows looked across the bush and we just hoped nobody could walk by.  There were blinds you could lower but they spoiled the view.  They were closed at night. The toilet had no blinds or curtains, just a big picture window.

The dining area was half under cover and half open.  At night a fire burned near the tables to keep us cosy.  It was surprisingly cold at night.  A Red-billed Hornbill danced attendance on the verandah every meal time, hoping for a handout.  The tables were always very tastefully set out with fancy folded napkins.  The butter dish was filled to the top with a drawing on the surface – a different sketch each time.

Game drives were set for 6.00 am with a wake up call at 5.30 but, as we were the only guests, we talked them into going half an hour later which was just as well as it didn’t get light until nearly 6.30 am.  The evening drives started at 3.30 pm and both drives went for 3 to 3 1/2 hours each.  The vehicle was an open Landrover converted into a safari truck that could carry three rows of three people with another passenger beside the driver.  The tracker sat out on a little jockey seat mounted on the front left hand side of the vehicle.  How he didn’t get wiped off as the truck swerved through the bush off-road I do not know.  The morning drive was always freezing in the open air until about 8.00 am and the evening one soon became just as cold as the sun went down.

Timbavati and Sabi Sands, the two reserves we visited, are large tracts of land on the western side of Kruger National Park.  There are quite a few of these reserves.  They are divided up into the various lodges which are privately owned.  These reserves are unfenced so all the Kruger National Park animals roam freely through them.  In Kruger proper you can drive only on the designated roads.  In the privately owned reserves the guides can take the vehicles off-road into the bush to follow the  Big Five.  Just in case you don’t know (I didn’t) the Big Five are lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo.  They got this name in the old days of game hunting as they were the most dangerous and sought after animals.  Now most people only want to shoot them with their cameras (and did we see a million dollars worth of cameras!) but poaching is still a big problem.  The Kruger National Park  alone has lost one black rhino and over 100 white rhinos to poachers since January.    By the way, it is uncool in South Africa to say lions, elephants, etc.  All us old safari veterans drop the "s".

We had three morning and three afternoon drives at Royal Legend with the truck all to ourselves.  About 8.00am we would stop for a cup of hot chocolate and a biscuit and at sunset we would find a nice spot for Sundowners.  That was the only time we could leave the vehicle.  You are never allowed to stand in the vehicle and when animals approach you have to be very quiet and still.

Every drive was different and within two days we had notched up the big five.  Early in the morning we found a leopard, the most elusive of the five, skulking through the grass.  She took no notice of us whatsoever and just kept on walking, even when we followed her.  They are so used to the vehicles they just we think we are a big animal not worth pursuing as we are too big for them.

Two male lions were chewing grass in the bush and, once again, they completely ignored us.  After a while they sat down quite close to the vehicle and looked very pleased with themselves.  They groomed themselves like domestic cats and settled down for a sleep.  Over the six drives we saw plenty of elephants  and came across  white rhino twice. 

The elephants were usually in a big group of females and younger ones.  Occasionally we saw a big bull.  The babies were beautiful and one came right up to us to say hello.  The first rhino we saw was wallowing in a mud hole. After a while he heaved his great bulk up and wandered a bit towards us and then turned around and sank back into the mud.  A busy day for him.  The second time we saw them there were two out walking and one came trotting towards us.  I am glad he wasn’t charging though trotting was enough to scare me.

So that was four and then for the buffalo.  Royal Legend excelled in buffalo.  We had seen a big herd late on the second afternoon – maybe up to 500, according to the guide.  They were wandering across in front of us, glaring balefully at us from time to time, attended by their Red-billed Oxpeckers and followed by Fork-tailed Drongos who dive in and eat insects disturbed by them.  But on the last morning they really put on a show.  We sat across from a waterhole and our guide, David, and tracker, Kenneth, (both local African men) pointed out a herd in the bush and predicted that they would come down to drink in about ten minutes.  And they were spot on.  It was just like you would see on a documentary on TV.  The Oxpeckers used the buffalos’ noses as a perching platform to reach down and grab themselves a drink.  There was a bit of argy bargy as different buffalo reinforced their place in the pecking order but nothing serious.  There were quite a few calves (or whatever little buffalo are called).  They have no specific breeding season.

Besides the big five we saw giraffes, zebras, dwarf mongoose, blue wildebeest (gnu) and plenty of birds.  We could just see the ears and eyes of some hippos in a waterhole and we saw quite a few Nile crocodiles.  They look very much like our salties.  There were plenty of impala and quite a few kudu, water buck, steenbok and just a couple of nyala and grey duiker, all members of the antelope family.  At the dining room a troop of Vervet monkeys slowly crossed the dry riverbed in dribs and drabs.  They sat up on a few dead tree branches and nibbled on stuff.  Later they came on to the verandah of our lodge and stared longingly inside.  What mischief they would have made had they got in I didn’t like to contemplate.

On our last full day we were on the main road that leads from reserve to reserve (the tar road) when the guide spotted a lioness lying just off the road shoulder in the dust.  We pulled up opposite her (maybe four metres away) and watched.  Then we saw a male lion about ten metres away lying attentively in the long grass.  His punk hairdo apparently indicated that he was quite young so he was doing very well to have spirited off a lady.  The guide then said that they were mating and they would do so every fifteen minutes.  The female sat there, making noises like someone suffering from bronchitis.  After a short time she stood up and strolled up the bank towards the male.  He stood up and they made mad passionate love for about twenty seconds then that was that.  He walked off a short way then he poked his tongue out and had a very satisfied look on his face.  They did this a couple times while we were there.

Quite a few cars went past on the lions’ side of the road and even though we signalled them to slow down and they knew we were looking at something, no-one else spotted them, so good is their camouflage.  Our guide and tracker were brilliant to find them.

A white vehicle approached and we signalled to them to slow.  I could see a lady in the front and I thought maybe all South African women must look alike as she reminded me of my niece’s mother-in-law who lives about 600 km from Timbavati.  Then I saw two little boys in the back who looked like my niece’s kids.  Then my great-niece popped her head out of the window and I couldn’t mistake her.  What a co-incidence.  They were on their way to a house that they have in a private game reserve further on – grandparents taking the three kids for a week.  How could that happen?  The only people we know on that side of South Africa and we met up with them quite by accident.

On to Arathusa in North Sabi Sands.  We were picked up by a driver and took off on the two hour drive.  We asked him to stop at an ATM so he took us into a very colourful town called Acornhoek.  Many people have to wheel wheelbarrows for quite a way and cart the water for their houses in large plastic containers.  They looked as if each container held 40 or 50 litres so they would be very heavy.  Others were wheeling barrows piled high with firewood.  In many places there is no electricity and firewood is very important.  Even though the town is close to Kruger National Park, not many Africans have employment in the tourism industry compared to the large population.  Unemployment is high.

There were market stalls all along the roadside selling oranges, brooms made from sticks, and all sorts of clothing and household goods.  The ATM has a permanent security guard.  Loud music throbbed out all around the shopping precinct and people were thronging everywhere.  Some ladies were carrying packages on their heads.  Everyone was very colourfully dressed in trendy clothes.  Some ladies were wearing traditional dress.

Back to the dusty tracks and into Arathusa.  This time there were about 22 other guests but certainly not overcrowded.  We usually had about six in our truck so we had plenty of room.  Once again our lodge was beautifully appointed but maybe a touch less luxurious.   In front of the dining area/bar/deck was a waterhole full of water.  There were always animals coming to drink or just hanging around and grazing.  At various times there were elephants, impala, water buck, warthogs and even lions.  We all went down to the edge to see the lions, just a few hundred metres from our bedroom and no fences in between.  On two nights the lions came right up to some of the more far flung lodges.  Not ours, thank goodness.  They were the “luxury” suites.  Glad I was in economy.  A couple of hippos slept the day away in the waterhole.

The first night we heard a very strange noise and we found out next day it was a hyena.  At Arathusa we saw hyenas, warthog and jackal which I had been hoping to see.  We saw wild dog tracks but couldn’t find the wild dogs.  Shame.  Once again we saw all the critters we had seen at Timbavati but they were thicker on the ground at Arathusa.  Except for the buffalo.

We had several exciting encounters with leopards.  The first one sat resting in the long grass then she slowly stood up, wandered over to our vehicle right beside me.  I can assure you I sat very still indeed.  I could have reached over the side and touched her.  But I didn’t.  She then slunk under the car and reappeared beside Ray on the other side and wandered off into the long grass and settled down for a nap.  The next day we followed a leopard off road along a grassy path.  She also sat down after a while and completely ignored us until we drove off.

The last morning we came across a leopard lying in the long grass at the foot of the tree.  On a branch above her was a half eaten impala that she must have caught the previous day.  There was a hyena hanging around, waiting for scraps.  After a while the leopard decided we might be wanting to partake of her impala so she jumped up and sprang towards us, snarling and baring her teeth.  The guide waved his arms about and spoke to her sternly.  She suddenly changed course and scampered up the tree where she took up guard on the impala and was still there when we left.  Can you imagine a more picture perfect scene on a safari than a leopard protecting its kill up a tree.  I love the way they lie on their belly with all four legs dangling loosely.

Occasionally our guide and tracker would leave us in the vehicle and go off up a track, following paw prints.  I did wonder what would have become of us if they had been gobbled up by something.  One day our guide had been conducting a bush walk on foot when a buffalo chased him up a tree and he had to radio for help.  The guides chatter on the two-way radio all the time, telling each other where they have spotted game.  They chat in the local language so the guests don’t know what they are talking about as they like to surprise you.  I got to recognise a few words.  Ngala is lion and mkhumbi is rhino.  We always knew if the radio message was about a leopard as suddenly the guide would drive like a bat out of hell across the bumpy dirt roads. 

All too soon it was time to join the driver for the trip back to Hoedspruit and the flight to Johannesburg.  The biggest surprise at Johannesburg, South Africa’s busiest international airport, was having to take a bus from the terminal to wherever the plane was parked and the climb up the stairs into a jumbo jet. 

I will put up pictures soon.  Going up to London tomorrow for two days.




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Comments

Barbara on

Good work! I don't think I could manage a quick trip to Korea just before I head off for the UK.

bluediscusau
bluediscusau on

I am pleased to see it is working and you can comment.

A

Cecily Jones on

What a great story Annette and to top it off with images. Looking forward to you English blog...

Barbara and Glen on

That's great - I didn't realize you had Timbavati to yourselves. Skye was pleased that she had recognized you. Keep the stories coming.

Garry McGovern on

Hi kids, you are obviously enjoying your trip - we might not see you back home!
Keep well.

Jen Harvey on

What a lovely surprise getting your blog. It's great that these days we can really share your adventures almost as soon as they happen. Just love the pics.....exceptional as always. Looking forward to receiving the next installment. J

Libby on

WOW - what a wonderful holiday you had guys! So enjoyed reading your blog Annette and the photos are amazing! Feel so homesick for the game reserve! Thanks for sharing. Lots oflove to you both

Patrick on

Just lovely

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