A Travellerspoint blog

The final league!

Wilderness to Cape Town to London Heathrow.

sunny 20 °C

On Monday we drove back to Cape Town. As we came over Sir Lowry’s Pass and saw the whole of False Bay stretching before us, with Table Mountain in the distance, we felt as if we were returning home! We stayed in Wynberg for a couple of nights with a friend from Ikhaya and enjoyed catching up on all the news.

We spent Tuesday in Hout Bay and, as well as visiting some old haunts, we met with Katherine who showed us the three new classrooms and extension to the hall that they are building at Ikhaya. It was incredible to see how much progress they have made since we left in mid-February, and the good news is that they have now been given all the money they need to finish the project.

Wednesday morning was spent sorting out a month’s accumulation of ‘stuff’ and fitting it into our rucksacks for the flight home. There was much discussion about our metre tall wooden giraffe, and whether he would make it onto the plane as hand luggage.

We went for a final walk down the main street in Wynberg, taking in the sights and sounds of Africa, and then headed for the airport.

Unfortunately our plane was delayed for three hours, and we were horrified to discover that we didn’t have individual TVs in the seat backs, but apart from that the journey passed without incident.

We seemed to bring South African weather back with us, and have been delighted by all of the sunshine since we got home which has certainly helped with the transition of settling back into life in London.

We have really enjoyed sharing our African Adventure with you. Thank you so much for your comments while we have been travelling.

The End!

Posted by Tinktravel 18:33 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Jeffrey's Bay to Wilderness

overcast 20 °C

We were on the road early and continued our journey through the Eastern Cape, passing through King William’s Town and Grahamstown, arriving in Jeffrey’s Bay, our stop for the night, at about lunchtime. ‘J-Bay’ is SA’s top surfing destination and while the best waves are from June to September, we still enjoyed watching surfers catching waves at Supertubes, one of the most well-known beaches.

We started the Garden Route proper, driving through the Tsitsikamma Mountains, and Nature’s Valley before stopping at the Crags, just outside Plettenberg Bay. We stayed at the Wild Spirit Backpackers, which was very nice with fantastic views of the mountains, except that we seemed to be the only people there who didn’t believe in fairies! There was much excitement when we arrived because there was going to be a concert that night. We nervously enquired whether it was going to be noisy, but it turned out to be an amazing acoustic guitarist called Gary Thomas, who did a set in the main room with us and all the hippies sitting round listening!

Wednesday to Friday
We realised we were feeling a little travel weary so when we reached Plettenberg Bay and liked it, we found somewhere to stay for a few nights.
Nearby, is the Robberg Peninsula which is a national marine reserve, and we had a lovely walk one morning round the rugged coastal path of the peninsula, spotting a colony of cape fur seals in the water.
In the other direction, the next day, we had a walk on Keurbooms Beach. We had a wonderful moment when we both spotted a fin in the water, and then realised there were lots of others with it. It was a school of more than 50 dolphins, gently swimming along very close to the shore. As we watched, they reached a patch of surf and we saw them riding inside the waves and then throwing their whole bodies up in the air to get back out to sea. They split into two large groups, and we watched their progress along the shore for about 10 minutes. It was Nick’s first ever wild dolphin spot, and Claire’s best ever, so it was a bit of an unexpected wildlife highlight.
That afternoon, we visited Monkeyland, a sanctuary for primates who have spent their lives living in captivity or as pets. It is a 12 hectare area of forest with a 7 metre fence around it, to keep baboons and other predators out. Some of the smaller monkeys can get out through the fence, but always go back at mealtimes. While we were in the car park, a squirrel monkey climbed into the boot of our car, but we resisted the urge to slam the door shut and bring it home!! When monkeys first go there, they have to be rehabilitated and taught how to live in the wild. They have 9 different species there, and over 400 animals in total. We really enjoyed walking round and seeing them up to their monkey business!

We spent most of the day on the beach in Plett, making the most of the last of the South African summer before heading along the coast. We stopped in Knysna for a couple of hours, visiting the Heads, the notorious passage from the sea into the lagoon thought to be one of the most dangerous in the world. We continued along the coast to Wilderness where we are staying for our last two nights before driving back to Cape Town. We had dinner in an organic restaurant, and both enjoyed eating springbok for the first time (Nick had a burger, Claire had meatballs!) – we think our trip has made us more carnivorous!!

We had a gentle day exploring the Wilderness area. We walked on the beach, and then drove inland to the ‘big tree’ (a yellowwood tree, 33m high and 800 years old) where we had a walk through the forest before driving back to our accommodation along the side of 3 lakes. It’s a lovely area, and we’re happy with our choice of location for our last stop before Cape Town

Posted by Tinktravel 16:01 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Southern Berg to Cintsa West

semi-overcast 25 °C

We left the mountains on Thursday, and headed south down the N2, a major road where you have to keep your wits about you to avoid goats, cows, horses and crazy drivers! We had planned to break our journey in a city called Mthatha, but we reached there before lunch (and didn't much like the look of it) so we kept going down the Wild Coast. Mid-afternoon, we arrived in Cintsa West (30km outside East London) and discovered a little piece of paradise!

We are staying at the Buccaneer's Backpackers' which we have since discovered is hailed as one of the best in South Africa. Our room has a veranda which looks down through the trees to a view of the lagoon, and surf crashing on the beach beyond. We have enjoyed some lovely walks in the afternoon where we have the whole beach to ourselves. We have spent a lot of time just sitting and enjoying the view, and even saw monkeys in the trees one afternoon.

A couple of nights ago, Nick fired up the braai and we had steak and mealies (corn on the cob!) for dinner. It was one of the best meals we've eaten since we've been away. Claire's contribution was potato salad (it says in the Lonely Planet that the men cook the meat, and the women make the salad - we thought it was important to conform to the stereotype!)

Yesterday, we went for a horse ride, and fulfilled one of Claire's lifetime ambitions by cantering along the beach. On the way back to the stables, we forded a river, and Nick discovered once they were in the water that his horse thought it was funny to splash around a lot and soak his legs! The aches, pains and bruises today weren't really part of the plan but no pain, no gain!!

On Monday, we will tear ourselves away to head along the Garden Route for the final league of our trip.

Posted by Tinktravel 11:32 Archived in South Africa Comments (3)

Swaziland to Lesotho


Wednesday 16th
We headed South from the Kruger and entered Swaziland from Jeppe's Reef Border Post. We drove through stunning scenery to the capital, Mbabane, where we braved the early evening rush hour traffic in search of a supermarket to stock up on supplies. It was quite an experience! We stayed at a backpackers' hostel in the Ezulwini Valley, which is Swaziland's most touristy area.

In the morning, we visited the National Museum in Lobamba, the royal district, and learnt a great deal about the country's history and rich culture. Swaziland's king, Mswati III, is the last remaining absoulte monarch in Africa and has 13 wives as polygamy is still commonplace. Each year, girls and young woman take part in the Umhlanga or Reed Dance. They travel from all over the country to Lobamba for a week of celebrations. They collect reeds from the countryside and dance as they carry the reeds to the Queen Mother, traditionally to help repair her home. They also dance before the king who can choose a new wife if he likes the look of any of the girls!!
The previous king, Sobhuza II, is highly revered throughout the country and we visited his Memorial Park. He was chosen as king when he was a few months old and ruled for over 80 years. He helped achieve independence for Swaziland in 1968 and when he died he left 120 official wives, and almost as many unofficial ones!
We spent the rest of the day browsing craft shops, and in the evening went to a multimedia theatrical performance at a local venue, House on Fire, well-known for it's slighly off the wall decor. The show was the story of Charles Bosman, a South African writer, and Patrick Maynardt, a South African Actor who brought to life Bosman's main character, Oom Skunk. We didn't understand a lot of the 'in' jokes, but it was an interesting evening.

Saturday / Sunday
On Friday evening, we arrived in the Central Drakensberg, and stayed for 3 nights with Su (Nick's cousins' cousin) and her husband Iain, who run the Mountain Splendour Eco Camping Resort, near Champagne Castle. They kindly put us up in a luxury tent equipped with proper beds and a fridge, and completely spoilt us.
On Saturday afternoon, we went for a hike from Monk's Cowl, and were once again stunned by the beautiful mountain scenery.
On Sunday morning, we visited a church held at a local campsite where the congregation is transient and changes every week, and in the afternoon, we went with Su and some of her friends to see some bushmen's paintings on their neighbour's land.
We really enjoyed spending some time with Su, Iain and their family and friends, and particularly loved experiencing proper South African braais on two of the evenings we were there!

We headed South from Champagne Castle to Underberg, and after bumping along 10km of untarred road, arrived at the Sani Lodge, a backpackers' in the middle of nowhere.

Tuesday 22nd
We left early in our 4x4 landrover and bumped our way up the road to the Sani Pass, a zigzagging track which leads to the Lesotho border. The lowest point in the whole country is at 1400 metres, and we were in the Eastern Highlands, the remotest, least populated part of the country, where all there is to see are mountain views and a few shepherds with sheep and goats. The people we met seemed very happy, but they have a tough life. Standard clothing is a blanket and wellies as it gets very cold in the winter but it can snow in any month of the year. We visited a traditional village which offers hospitality to shepherds, sheep shearers and tourists, and tasted bread cooked in the traditional manner on hot coals. We also smelt the local beer which looks a bit like cold coffee, but the sour smell didn't entice us to actually taste it! Last stop was the Sani Top Chalet, the highest pub in Africa, where we had a glass of dutch courage before winding our way back down the Sani Pass!

Posted by Tinktravel 14:14 Archived in Swaziland Comments (2)

Vic Falls to the Kruger

sunny 30 °C
View Southern Africa on Tinktravel's travel map.

Monday 7th March
We had a leisurely, luxurious breakfast at the hotel then made our way to the airport, enjoying a lively discussion with the taxi driver on the way, who was not only very well versed in Zimbabwean politics, but also had a pretty good handle on what was going on in the UK. Both countries currently have coalition governments, but the similarities seemed to end there!
We touched down in Johannesburg at 3pm-ish, picked up our hire car for the next month and successfully negotiated the rush hour traffic and some major roadworks on the road from the airport - all much like being on the M25! We stopped over for the night at Witbank, recently renamed (like a lot of towns in SA!) as eMalahleni, en route to the Drakensberg Escarpment.

We spent the night in a little town called Dullstroom, renowned as a major centre for trout fishing with people heading out there in hordes every weekend. Is was very quiet but we managed to entertain ourselves with fudge from the homemade sweet shop, and delicious baked trout with capers in a little bistro for dinner.

We drove along the scenic 'Highlands Meander' and the 'Panorama Route' to Pilgrim's Rest in the Drakensberg Escarpment, which was a gold rush town. Gold was discovered there in 1873 and mined there for nearly 100 years. It's now a heritage town and the corrugated iron buildings are preserved as they would have been in the town's heyday. It's a popular tourist attraction but, fortunately for us, wasn't too busy (travelling in low season has it's advantages!) Later we made our way to Graskop for a two night stay as a base to explore the area. Our accommodation was a very pleasant rondavel (a round house / hut with a thatched roof) at a backpacker's hostel.

We headed north towards the Blyde River Canyon, stopping en route to take in the Pinnacle, a 'skyscraper' rock formation and God's Window, an amazing viewpoint from where you can see for miles. We climbed 300 steps up into the rainforest and were rewarded with another breathtaking vista.
Next stop was Bourke's Luck Potholes, cylindrical holes carved into the rock by whirlpools where 2 rivers meet, then onto the 3 Rondavels - enormous rounds of rock with pointed grassy tops that look like giant huts carved into the canyon.
We thought we wouldn't be impressed by waterfalls so soon after Vic Falls, but we stopped at Berlin Falls and Lisbon Falls on the way back to Graskop, and both were very beautiful.
It was a day of wonderful views, and just enjoying nature (is this middle age approaching, I wonder?!)
The overwhelming sense was of how much space there is. It feels as if the horizon is much further away in SA!

Friday to Wednesday 16th March
We had an incredible few days in the Kruger National Park, and will probably be talking about it for months to come, so we will try to summarise our highlights, and save the detail for when we get home!

We spent the first two nights in the Satara rest camp. It's about a third of the way up the park, and known as being a good place to see cats.
We really enjoyed heading out in the car, bimbling along at 30kph, and just seeing what we could see, but the absolute highlight was the Sunset Game Drive on Saturday evening:
We spotted 80% of the big five (leopards eluded us throughout our stay) and pretty much every other animal you can think of. We saw a herd of buffalo for the first time, then spotted a male lion in the distance who seemed to be stalking the herd. We watched his progress as he picked his way towards them until he disappeared into the long grass. We were all hoping we might see him attack!
We had an encounter with curious lion cubs who came towards the truck to investigate. One of our fellow 'tourists' had a camera with a very loud shutter, and one cub was fascinated by the noise.
We also saw white rhino, hippopotamus in and out of the water, two types of jackal, hyena, giraffe, elephant, porcupine, warthog, as well as the obligatory impalas, zebras and wildebeest. We all descended from the truck after 3 hours with huge smiles on our faces, and Claire viewed this animal bonanza as her birthday present!

From Satara, we headed north to Letaba on Sunday to sign in for the Olifants Wilderness Trail, spotting birthday giraffes, elephants and lions on the way (we can't really claim we spotted the lions - our attention was attracted by a huge traffic jam, so we pulled over and somebody pointed them out to us!)
From there, we were driven 30km south to the bush camp where we would stay for 3 nights along tracks that are only accessible to rangers. We were in the middle of nowhere about 5km from the Mozambique border, on the banks of the Olifants River. We had no electricity, but stayed in comfortable huts (lit by kerosene lamps) and made the most of the showers and flushing toilets (a definite step up from our last bush camp!)

On Monday and Tuesday morning, we went for a bush walk for about 5 hours, covering 10km or so each day. We were accompanied by two rangers (and their rifles) who had clocked up more than 60 years of experience between them, and we learned about identifying tracks and dung (we consider it a life skill that we can now tell the difference between white and black rhino dung!) We got back to camp around 11, had lunch and a long siesta (it was too hot to do anything else) then headed out again for another couple of hours at 4.30 until it got dark.

Highlights were:
- Finding four white rhino - a massive bull and 3 cows - because the rangers heard them, and then led us round to approach them from downwind so that we wouldn't scare them away.
- Coming upon a herd of buffalo who got scared and ran away. We couldn't exactly say it was a stampede, but the noise of their hooves on the ground was fairly exciting!
- Walking by the river and seeing a huge pod of hippos in the water (we counted at least 25) all of whom turned and looked at us. When we walked away after watching for a few minutes, they made a huge racket which was apparently their victory call - we had given up so they had won!

We left the camp on Wednesday morning feeling very tired but content with the unique experience we had had. We were bowling along in the truck and nobody was paying much attention when suddenly a lioness walked into the road just in front of us, and then 2 more. They seemed completely unperturbed by our presence and took their time, posing for photos by the side of the road. It was an amazing end to our time in the Kruger.
We had a long drive south through the park to reach our next destination, so didn't stop to look at animals much, but literally 5 minutes before leaving the park, we saw 2 rhinos asleep under a tree - technically, that was the end of our time in the Kruger!!

We now only have 3 weeks left until we come home so we're trying to pack in as much as we can before the end of our trip!

Posted by Tinktravel 21:39 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

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