Revisiting Kruger National Park

Kruger - 15

Zebra, and Giraffe Crossing, Kruger NP

We visited Kruger National Park twice previously and both times the park was very dry after enduring drought for several years. It made the animals easier to see but we wanted to see the park after the last two good rainy seasons so we decided to travel through the park on our way toward East Africa.

We entered the park at the Punda Maria Gate and spent a leisurely four hours driving to the Shingwedzi Rest Camp. We spent three nights at the camp which gave us a good chance to explore the area around it on drives each morning and afternoon before we moved south to Tsendse Bush Camp which is just south of the Mopani Rest Camp. After another three nights with more days exploring around there we headed out of the park crossing the border into Mozambique at the Giryondo Gate.

Even though there was plenty of good cover for the animals we saw plenty of wildlife and really enjoyed the different aspect the green growth and plentiful water provided.

There are boards at the rest camps where people mark the locations they have seen different animals and each day there were sightings of lions and leopard reported and we visited and revisited the areas they had been seen in. We had no luck with seeing lions but a leopard strolled across the road in front of the car on one of our drives. She headed for a bush just by the side of the road but before Paul could get his camera ready she had second thoughts about settling down there and moved through thick bush and out of sight. I managed to catch a quick shot through the windscreen.

Kruger - 9

Leopard, Kruger NP

The only other predators we saw were a couple of hyena lying beside the road early on morning.

I was particularly pleased with the numbers of giraffe we saw. they are amazing animals and can seem gangly with their long, long legs and their swaying walk but they somehow manage to always appear graceful. Sometimes they are busy feeding and ignore us but often they are curious and stop to stare at us just as we stare at them. I loved getting detail of their heads and lush long eyelashes and kind eyes as well as detail of their intricate patterns.

We saw plenty of buck on our travels. The waterbuck were plentiful near the rivers and pretty  nyala could be seen among the bushes.

We saw individual or small groups of buffalo frequently, particularly wallowing in mud in the riverbeds. We also saw two large herds numbering in the hundreds, always great to experience.

Zebra are another frequent sighting and warthogs were seen fairly often but they usually head away as soon as they feel threatened.

Amongst the birds we saw were the pretty Little Bee-eater and the stately Egyptian Geese.

Last but by no means least are the elephants. We saw plenty of them while we were at Shingwedzi and they are great to sit and watch as you can see the family interactions and their characters really show. Then as we approached the Mopani camp we saw more and more of them. There were hundreds in the area feeding on the lush growth.

Kruger - 12

Elephant at the Water tank, Kruger NP

From Kalahari to Kruger

Giraffe in the Okavango Delta

After we leave the Central Kalahari Game Reserve our next major destination is Kruger National Park so we need to cross Botswana and the top of South Africa. We have a few places we want to visit on the way and the first is a return stay in Maun.

We were in Maun for a couple of weeks last year and had some great trips into Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta and Paul really wants to fly over the Delta in a helicopter while it has a good amount of water in it. We also have a few chores to do in town, including cleaning off all the mud presently caking the car so we’ll return to Sitatunga Camp just outside of town and catch up with Gerald and Corinne.

We didn’t leave the Central Kalahari until late morning because we had spent time looking for game and negotiating a few muddy patches inside the park. The drive out to the highway also takes quite a while because of all the water on the track. Once on the highway its an easy but long drive and we arrive at Sitatunga in the late afternoon, just in time for a drink in the bar before an easy meal and bed. We stay four nights, the chores get done, the car gets cleaned, Paul processes some photos and video from our last visit and I work on the backlog of posts. Most importantly Paul has his helicopter flight late one afternoon and captures some amazing photographs. There’s one at the top and another couple here, with more to come.

Young elephant covered in white sand in the Okavango Delta

Buffalo in the lush grass in the Okavango

We finish our chores on Monday morning and by late morning we head east. Its a very long day to get across Botswana to the busy city of Francistown and then south for another couple of hours until it is time to leave the highway and find a bush camp. Along the drive east we were amazed by the amount of water along the side of the highway.

Flood waters beside the highway across Botswana

Our long day put us in easy reach of the Tuli Block, a collection of privately owned properties which are mainly game reserves. As well as the opportunity to see wildlife we also hope to enjoy interesting scenery and to see some of the cultural history sites in the area. We start re-thinking our plans almost as soon as we leave the bitumen. A patch of very slippery mud has us sliding all over the road with our tyres caked and unable to grip. If there is a lot of this mud it will make it difficult to get to all of the places we have planned. Luckily the place we hope to spend a night or two in is not far and we reach it with only one more tricky spot, a creek crossing on the property which had been churned up by crossing vehicles. We get stuck momentarily but our diff-lockers save the day and we don’t have to get out the winch.

Our camp site is lovely with beautiful trees all around and our own private ablutions and wash up sink. A short walk down the bank gets us to the Limpopo River with more lovely trees across the river on the South African side. We wanted to spend at least one more day in the area exploring but decide to shorten our stay and reach what we can today and then cross into South Africa.

We want a bush camp not too far from the border but as soon as we cross into South Africa the nature of the countryside changes. Fences stop us from leaving the road as the land is either under cultivation or managed as private game reserves for hunting and meat production. We push on and just before it gets dark we are happy to find a lodge which offers camping just outside the small town of Alldays. The site is a bit rundown and the bore water is dreadful but at least it is safe spot to spend the night.

Our next stay is a huge contrast. The Zakanaka camp site is in the Soutpansberg Mountains not far from the town of Makhado (previously known as Louis Trichardt) and it has lush gardens, a backdrop of impressive mountains, immaculate and very decorative amenities, free fire wood, our own private covered kitchen area including a stove and sink, cleared walking paths and delightful hosts. Gail and Alistair invite us to join them for sundowners when we wander up to the house and we swap tales as we enjoy watching the changing light and the sight of a shy bushbuck wandering past. It is so nice in fact that we decide to stay another night. This gives Paul a chance to download and sort his recent photos and to fly the drone. Gail and Alistair join us after dinner to see some of Paul’s photos and give us directions for the most scenic route to Kruger.

The drive is delightful and we enter the park before lunch time, plenty of time to start our game viewing on the way to our first camp.



On the Road in Our New Abode

Ready for Anything

Ready for Anything

We already have our ‘loft apartment’ (aka our Landcruiser with a roof top tent, small fridge and simple kitchen), now we are set to take delivery of our luxurious split level home. The Landcruiser alone is fine for short trips but for extended trips, particularly for those where we will be away from shops and urban areas for longer periods, we need a larger fridge with a freezer, room for more fresh and dry food, lots more water, and lots more power to run the fridges, computers, hard drives, and recharge batteries etc. We managed to fit all we needed into the slide-on camper in Australia so while we ended up with a heavy load we didn’t need to tow. Unfortunately we can’t find anything comparable in South Africa. After considering the options we have decided an off road camper trailer should meet our needs and will provide the added bonus of allowing us to set up a base camp and take short trips with just the Landcruiser and roof top tent whenever we want or if the tracks are unsuitable for towing.

We looked at lots of different trailer models and we’ve decided the Conqueror brand has the best reputation for off-road capability. A local dealer has a second hand model with plenty of space for working, sleeping and storage and it also has quite a few of the extras such as the awnings and mats we will need. They are also able to complete the electrical work we need on the car and the trailer to including supply and installation of solar panels, additional battery storage, inverters and the controllers and a pair of spotlights so we arrange for the work to be completed as soon as possible.

The following Tuesday is the date everything is due to be completed and the afternoon is taken up with a handover including a demonstration of how everything works. The following morning we assemble all of the gear and food we have been busy buying and pack it all in. We’ve planned food for six to seven weeks and we have clothing for all weather types, we have masses of camera and computer gear and there’s still space available when it is all fitted in, what a delight. Things will need reorganising to make them easy to find and use while we are travelling, and of course to make sure they will travel safely but we can do that once we get on the road and find out what works best for us when we are out camping.

We’re keen to try it all out so we’re spending the first night at Sue’s before heading out of town in the morning. We have more chores in the afternoon including a return visit to Conqueror for a couple of final jobs including picking up registration papers and spare parts. By the time we make it to bed we are more than ready for a good rest so we are very pleased to find it as comfortable as we hoped. The set up was easy and I’m sure we’ll get quicker and more efficient at both the set up and pack up.

Our Luxury Home

Our Luxury Home

We make an early start in the morning in an effort to beat the rush hour and get a pretty easy exit from town. We’ve decided to avoid toll roads and freeways so we can see more of the country on our way and the first part of the trip takes us right through the edge of Pretoria, my first visit to this city. It is the administrative capital of South Africa and, although it is so close to Johannesburg that they are virtually joined by the suburban sprawl, it has a totally different feel. There is definitely less poverty and unemployment and as we are passing through we see numerous workers on their way to their offices and other employment. Trees line many of the roads and public buildings are set on large properties.

Once out of the city we are quickly in sparsely populated country areas and although the avoidance of the freeways adds time to our trip we thoroughly enjoy the slower pace and scenery along the way. Most of the trip is through the highveld, or the high central plateau, where the drought shows its full impact in the parched country around us . Eventually we reach the pass down to the middleveld and while rainfall has been low here there has been more than on the highveld and green trees cover the steep hills. Part way down between the highveld and middleveld we reach the historic gold mining village of Pilgrims Rest. Today we have time for afternoon tea and a short browse around but the old buildings and intriguing shops would provide plenty of interest for a longer stay if we can find time for a return visit.

A little further down we arrive at the village of Graskop which is on the edge of the escarpment and a steep drop down to the lowveld. The caravan park we are staying at is perched right on the edge of the escarpment and the views are fantastic. We are spending three nights here, partly to wait for the end of the school holidays but also to give us time to recharge ourselves, do a few odd jobs and work out just how we want things organised.

Graskop Sunrise

Graskop Sunrise

We manage to complete most of our chores the next day including a drive into the village to the hardware and small supermarket and a wander around the town and into a fascinating gallery and curio shop. The rest of the chores can wait for another time and we are very close to the Blyde River Canyon area so a day sight seeing is is a far better way to spend our final day here. Our first stop is at a lookout called God’s Window. A number of vantage points provide great views over the precipitous drop and the land below and a walk up the hill leads us to a beautiful rain forest with fascinating plants and more great views.

God's Window

God’s Window

We continue along the road with stops at waterfalls and view points and stop for a picnic lunch at Bourke’s Luck Potholes. This is where the Treur (Sorrow) River joins the Blyde (Hope) River. Through millions of years the swirling whirlpools at the junction of the rivers have caused water born sand and rocks to grind deep cylindrical potholes in the bedrock of the rivers. In Australia we call them ‘warri holes’. Along with hundreds of other tourists we take the walk down to the river and across bridges to complete a circuit of the area. Paul has been here before, the geology and natural aspects of the area haven’t changed but the gate with an admission fee, the increased infrastructure and the hordes of visitors are certainly different.

The light is too strong and shadows too much of a contrast for Paul to focus much on photography at Bourke’s Potholes but with filters on the camera the views further up the road at the Three Rondavels offer more possibilities and warrant a longer stop.

The Three Rondavels

The Three Rondavels

This is our final stop for the day and it is late afternoon by the time we are back at camp after a lovely day. This has been a good chance to try out our new home, we are pleased with how we easy the set up and pack up are, the amount of space is great, and it is all very comfortable. We still need to get used to towing and particularly backing, we are both very out of practice in backing trailers, and we will have to see how it handles rough off road tracks and tricky situations. I’m sure they will come in due time but for now we are off to the Kruger National Park for three weeks.

Surprise Safari

Kruger National Park

Two weeks after we arrive in South Africa we are delighted to participate in a surprise celebration for the 90th birthday of Paul’s Mum, Eileen. Her actual birthday was a couple of months ago but her granddaughters Kate and Gemma who are organising the event delayed the date until Paul could be here. Nobody has let slip anything about the party to Eileen and there are a more surprises in store for her. Paul’s son Sean, daughter Caitlin and her husband Kevin have flown over from Australia and she has no idea they are coming. Kate has come up from Cape Town and Eileen’s daughter Sarah and grandsons Dylan and Keegan have travelled from Durban, again all without Eileen’s knowledge. Other family and friends from around Johannesburg are also assembling for the event. As a final surprise, two days after the party we are taking her on a six day trip to Kruger National Park and Sean, Caitlin and Kevin are coming along as well.

Late Saturday morning all the guests are assembled at the venue, a pool-side “lapa” (thatched shelter without walls) belonging to the daughter of Eileen’s best friend Jean. Eileen thinks she is coming to collect Jean to go out for lunch. Kate and Gemma have done a fabulous job preparing the area and decorating the lapa with roses and balloons. Tables have been laid with white tablecloths, there are plenty of chairs and shade to relax in, and all the food has been organised so we all enjoy the glorious day as we wait for the guest of honour. When she arrives Eileen is quite overcome by surprise and delighted by the gathering. All in all it is a wonderful afternoon with lots of conversations and laughter, good food and drink, short speeches and the obligatory photos.

6.00 am Monday morning we arrive to collect Eileen for the long drive to Kruger. By the time we have loaded the meat out of the freezer, fitted all the last minute bits and pieces in and double checked the driving directions it is after 6.30 and the peak hour traffic is well underway. We hit a couple of slow patches of heavy traffic and even though we are travelling on freeways and against the majority of the traffic for most of the time it is still a couple of hours before we have managed to escape from the greater Johannesburg area.

We would prefer to avoid freeways and stick to quieter country roads (and avoid the tolls) but with [such] a long way to go we need to use them for a good part of the trip. Caitlin, Kevin and Sean trail our much slower Landcruiser in their rental car. They could cut quite a bit of time off the trip if they didn’t have to slow down as we trudge up hills and we never approach the speed limit of 120 kph. By late morning we have a good part of the distance covered and it is finally time to leave the freeway. Paul has planned a route to take advantage of the views available as we descend from the highveld, the central plateau covering much of South Africa, to the middleveld and then down to the lowveld. The passes are all named and he has chosen the picturesque Long Tom pass for our descent to the middleveld. We stop at the top to admire the views, try to decipher the history on the plaques (it is written in Afrikaans), buy souvenirs and have picnic lunch. The British used a Long Tom cannon, possibly more than one, to control the pass during the last Boer War and this was the last site it was used. Continuing our journey to the lowveld we pass through towns and villages, all much bigger than the last time Paul visited this area and finally we arrive at Orpen Gate at around 4pm, our point of entry into Kruger.

Kruger National Park is in the north east corner of South Africa with the Lebombo Ranges in Mozambique running north south along the eastern border and reaching Zimbabwe and the Gonarezhou National Park in the far north. It covers 20,000 sq km and stretches 444 km from Malalene Gate in the south through to Parfuri Gate in the north. There are seven other entry points within South Africa and two from Mozambique. The southern section has the most visitors and we are avoiding it this trip with our accomodation booked in the central area of the park.

Our first night is at Tamboti Tented Camp, only a few kilometres from Orpen. Here we stay in safari tents with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. The tents all have two beds, power, a fridge, a secure food storage locker, a braai (barbecue), and a verandah. By the time we have unloaded everything from the eskys and got ourselves organised on Eileen’s verandah we are just in time to watch the sunset over the dry river bed in front of us while we enjoy a gin and tonic (or beer or wine as preferred). Baboons call from a large tree opposite and we wonder what other wildlife is nearby. The camp is surrounded by an electric fence which runs in front of us alongside the river bed but as we are elevated it protects us without interrupting our view. After a delicious braai and a relaxed evening chatting under the starry sky we head for bed, weary after the long drive and looking forward to the days ahead.

During the night people in our group hear lions roar, hyenas cackle and baboons chatter nearby and other campers report hearing a leopard growl but I managed to sleep through it all. The baboons provide plenty of interest as we share breakfast on the verandah. The tree opposite is home to a large troop and after seeing just a few on outer branches initially we see more and more appear and descend to the river bed. Eventually there are about 30 to 40 on the ground. Youngsters play and others enjoy the sunshine before they all slowly make their way along the sand and out of our sight to spend their day before they will no doubt return to this tree for the night.

Finally we are also ready to start our day’s journey and leave Tamboti to head toward Shimuwini where we will be staying for the next four nights. The speed limit in the park is 50 on bitumen roads and 40 on dirt roads but we often travel slower as we search for game and when we spot any we stop to watch them. We’ve seen zebras, giraffes, elephants and warthogs and quite a few different antelope and birds when a passing motorist tells us of seeing a pride of lions further along the road. Hoping they are settled for the day we continue our slow pace enjoying our sightings as we go.

Sure enough the lions are still there, in fact they hardly move during the half hour or so that we are in the area. Two young males lie under a tree and a little further on a large male with a magnificent mane shelters in a bushy thicket. Unfortunately the branches and leaves mean photographs are very difficult but he is certainly a great beast. Several females, a cub and another young male form another group not far away but once again movement is minimal and photography obscured. They have obviously fed quite recently as herds of antelope, mainly Impala and Kudu, graze without fear nearby. Something spooks them and they scatter then move up a hill and out of site. On the other side of the road the land is lower and the creek bed here has pools of water. Elephants and Impala are scattered along the water. Its no wonder that at times there are up to ten vehicles with people keen to appreciate the life around them.

Its almost midday when we reach Satara Rest Camp, a whole 50 km east of Tamboti. We’d like to head further before lunch but when we leave here we have a similar distance until we reach the next place we will be allowed to get out of the vehicles so we eat before we continue. We travel north now and the fascinating viewing continues. The country is very dry and many of the rivers and creeks are dry so when we see a waterhole we invariably see wildlife around it. Elephants and buck are the most numerous but giraffes and zebras are also around. A larger waterhole has a sizeable herd of elephants enjoying the mud. A turtle perches on top of a hippo watching the activities. Nearby two young males play fight, until a big male enters the area.

We have entered a part of the park where the dominant vegetation is the Mopane bush. These are covered in yellow and orange leaves and provide quite beautiful displays. The Olifants River is still flowing with more water than we have seen elsewhere but the width of the river bed shows that we are seeing only a small fraction of the flow which would occur after heavy rain on the Lebombo Mountains.

Olifants River

Olifants River

Olifants Rest Camp is not far up stream and we would like to take a look there but time is moving on and we reluctantly decide we do not have time today. Paul and I will definitely revisit this area. We make a brief stop at Letaba Rest Camp before leaving the bitumen and heading west along some dirt roads to save a longer trip on bitumen. The cruiser handles the dirt well but the passengers in the rear vehicle feel every corrugation and are happy to return to the bitumen 30 km later. We cross the Letaba River and we’re very pleased to see a reasonable amount of water in it as we’ll be staying in a camp beside it further downstream from here.

Soon we reach the turn into Shimuwini Bush Camp. The dirt road in is about 9km long although there is a slightly longer route along the river as an alternative. Shimuwini is much smaller than the large rest camps which have shops, restaurants, day picnic areas, and often swimming pools as well as a variety of accommodation levels ranging from camping to basic cottages and up to more luxurious options. At Shimuwini Bush camp there are a about a dozen self contained cottages with slightly different lay outs and the only supplies available are ice and firewood. Gates to the compound are locked between 6.00 pm and 6.00 am. We have two booked but first we have to reach there.

Just after we leave the main road we reach a dry river with a raised concrete bridge. A herd of elephants have dug a waterhole in the sand just next to the bridge and aren’t to keen on us being too close to them. Luckily they aren’t any good at jumping or climbing as a belligerent female has a staring contest with me and spreads her ears in a manner which leaves me in no doubt as to what she thinks of me being in her space.

Not happy!

Not happy!

We take the river loop and although the afternoon is steadily advancing we detour to several viewing points to observe the abundant wildlife and beautiful scenery. This is going to be a splendid place to stay!

We’ve given up on the detours and we’re approaching the gate when a large male elephant steps on to the road not far ahead of us. We see another male off to one side and we quickly stop and get ready to reverse if they become aggressive. Luckily they decide we aren’t a threat and they wander slightly off the road to graze on the trees. We wait for a while hoping they will move further away but they seem settled so we slowly move past as far away from them as possible and soon we are safely inside the gate.

Right of way

Right of way

We have travelled about 170 km in the day but it has taken us the whole day and now we have to hurry to get everything inside so we can relax while we enjoy the light of the setting sun. We are all relieved to know that we don’t have to do any more packing and unpacking for the next four days and we are delighted with the accommodation. A large glassed in area allows us to enjoy the views without dealing with the wind or insects but the doors can be opened wide during the day to allow plenty of fresh air. The bathroom facilities are clean and spacious, the beds comfortable and the kitchen is right next to the sitting area so the cooks aren’t excluded from the conversations.

A grassed area in front of us has plenty of mature trees which are well populated with birds. Small ground squirrels run around the grass and race up tree trunks and we also spot the occasional dwarf mongoose. That’s all on our side of the fence which runs along the bottom of the grassed area and separates us from the Letaba River just below it and the open country beyond. A bird hide is positioned in a corner with the side fence and there you definitely feel you are in the domain of the animals, especially when two large elephants, probably the ones we saw on the road, push through the bush adjacent to the side fence on their way to the river. Caitlin and Kevin head over to the hide to see them better and they get to smell them as well.

The next few days pass easily and quickly. It is always interesting to stroll along the river bank, inside the fence, watching the life in and along the river; hippos, elephants, crocodiles, turtles, kudu, impala, waterbuck, buffalo, herons, egrets and storks. A Goliath Heron (it is huge, about 1.4 metre tall) and an African Openbill Stork pose near each other as they dry their wings and a female waterbuck turns her back on them unimpressed by their display. A pair of African Fish Eagles who nest in a baobab tree just up river from the camp call in their distinctive voice and are seen diving for fish nearby. Inside the fence yellow-billed hornbills search for food on the ground and a bearded woodpecker pecks in the tree above me. Numerous small birds delight us with their song and their colours, I have still so much to learn about the birds here. The squirrels always raise a smile and it is easy to spend lots of time just watching them scamper around.

If we’re a little more energetic we can find lots more to see just driving a few kilometres along the river loop and picking a spot to watch the wildlife and the changing colours. In addition to drives during the daytime Paul is out almost every morning shortly after the gate is opened and again in the late afternoon to capture photos in the light he likes so much. He is usually accompanied by one or more of us but the passengers change. A couple of times a longer drive is taken, once up to Mopani the next rest camp north of us and once a short distance south along the main road trying to spot a leopard which had been sighted earlier in the morning. We had no luck with the leopard spotting but our drives provide other sighting including Wildebeest, Nyala, Steenbok, Bushbuck, Reedbuck and Duiker to add to our collection. Driving into Mopani Rest Camp I was delighted to see a zebra crossing, well several of them actually.

Finally it is time to pack up camp and make the long journey back to Joburg. We are on the road shortly after 6.00 but the first 40 km to the Phalaborwa Gate is slow and not just because of the park speed limit. First we crawl along the area the leopard had been seen as they often use one spot for several days but again we have no success. Next we spot a hyena just next to the road. It’s the first hyena I have seen and it is quite different to what I expected. The snout is broader and it doesn’t look as fierce as I would have thought but I’m sure it would be a different story if I wasn’t safely in the car taking my photos. Along the road I am delighted with a group of giraffe under some tall trees with the colourful Mopane bushes surrounding them. A final sighting before we leave the park is a solitary old buffalo bull, one of Africa’s most dangerous species. Luckily he shows no inclination to charge the car and we make it to the gate in time for breakfast.

Caitlin, Kevin and Eileen take the lead in their faster vehicle and make it back home by mid afternoon and Paul, Sean and myself arrive an hour later, weary but very pleased with our safari. Paul and I will definitely be returning to Kruger with more time available so we can see the other parts of the park at a pace which suits us.

Marakele National Park

Our first camp in our new setup

Our first camp in our new setup

After our first two weeks in Africa we’re exhausted but happy. Several months ago we paid a deposit on an ex-rental Toyota Landcruiser fitted out with a roof top tent, awning, kitchen, 40 litre fridge, table and chairs, water tank, long range fuel tank, second spare and the basics in recovery gear. When we arrive at the company premises on Monday morning we are delighted to find the people at Bushlore to be friendly and extremely helpful and the vehicle is just as specified. The potentially difficult red tape of dealing with the purchase is handled very efficiently including an introduction to the African way of doing business when the TRN, the ‘Traffic Register Number’ which is necessary for all foreigners to obtain before purchasing a vehicle, is obtained in just 24 hours. The procedures can take weeks with no guarantee of success but Bushlore knows the right guy who knows the right guy so after accompanying him to the carpark of the vehicle registration office we hand over a bundle of cash, a couple of passport photos and hey presto the job is done. By Thursday all the paper work is finished, the vehicle is prepared, the rest of the money has been transferred and the vehicle is ours.

The more time consuming task is to find and purchase the seemingly millions of extra items we need before we are ready to hit the road for a long trip. Every day we head out to shopping centres and specialty stores to learn what the local market has and buy things ranging from wineglasses to bedding, a tyre pressure gauge to tea towels, all the basics for the kitchen and things to store them in, extra utensils and laundry products, a much thicker and more comfortable mattress for the roof top tent, and on and on and on. By mid way through the second week we have still not finalised some of the important purchases like solar panels, additional batteries and regulators or extra lighting for the car but we are shopped out and in need of a bush break.

Time is limited but we figure we can swing a trip away for two nights and after considering the options we decide to head north into the Limpopo Province to the Marakele National Park. Google tells us we’ll be there in less than three hours but that is far too optimistic and its closer to five hours by the time we arrive at the Bontle camp site in the National Park.

I’m really impressed by the camp ground. The camping area is divided into three loops with large campsites spread around loop each plus a few permanent safari tents. Boundary posts indicate the limit of where we are allowed to camp and walk but there is no barrier between the posts so the animals grazing just nearby are free to roam into the camp. There are no large predators in this section of the park so it is quite safe, unless you trip over a wart hog in the middle of the night. There is a dam nearby and a large open grassed area between it and the camp so while we eat a delayed lunch we are treated to the sight of Impala, Zebras, Gemsbok, Wart Hogs, Ostriches and Kudu happily eating their lunch as well. Its very warm and the birds are quiet but a few Yellow Billed Hornbills forage around our camp site and cute Ground Squirrels scamper up the trees. Ostriches and Wart Hogs happily wander through the camping area but the Zebras and various antelope come close to the boundary posts but remain beyond it.

In addition to the great viewing the camp site impresses me with its facilities. Spotless showers and toilet blocks are located in each loop with a couple of washing up sinks as well. Each site has a tap, rubbish bin and power point as well as a braai where we can light a wood fire for a barbecue.

We are not allowed to drive in the park before 6.00 am and we have to be back by 6.00 pm but this looks a great place for photos anyway so that won’t be a hardship here. After lunch we decide we have time for a drive around part of the park before we need to return to camp for our first attempt at setting up the roof top tent. We head for the bird hide and I get my first giraffe sighting along the way, amazing animals. We also spot a cute Ververt monkey and more Kudu.

We manage to miss the turn to the bird hide and reach the tunnel and gate which separate the two sections of the park. The larger animals are confined to the other side so we head in hoping to see some of them. There are lots of trees and thickets of bushes along the road so there are lots of places for animals to be out of sight and we don’t even spot any Impala which were numerous in the other section but the scenery is very impressive. Usually you can drive to the top of a rocky mountain near where a large flock of Cape Vultures nest but the Parks Board are resurfacing the road at present so unfortunately it is not open. Instead we drive around and between other hills enjoying the scenery and getting a feel for the place.

Back at camp we manage the set up of our roof top tent, it probably took longer than it needed to but we’ll certainly get faster with more practice and familiarity. We watch the sun set and the sky change colours with a glass of wine and cheese and biscuits, then cook our meal and clean up and still have time to enjoy the balmy evening before bed.

On the next day we go for a longer drive in the morning and aim to spend the afternoon back at our camp watching the animals from there. Once again there are very few animals in the other section of the park, apart from a pair of Klipspringers, that is until we are approaching the exit gate and are confronted by a large elephant walking along the bitumen road towards us. We immediately stop and it continues its steady pace toward us. This can be potentially dangerous so Paul has the car in reverse and he is ready to take off if the elephant appears to be aggressive. It comes close but remains calm. Right next to us it takes a good sniff, obviously decides we are harmless and wanders off into the bush. What a great experience!

Very close!

Very close!

The afternoon and night are very windy with lots of dust blowing around and the animals nearby are not as abundant. We agree however that its still a great place to be and we have had a great start to our time in the African bush.

Joburg, First Impressions

Big       Dusty     Bustling     Growing      Sprawling

Johannesburg, or Joburg or Jozi or JHB, is a sprawling busy place, the largest city in South Africa. The population of the city itself is estimated to be 4.4 million while the greater metro area has a population estimated at 8.8 million or 10.5 million depending on the definition of the areas included. Suburbs stretch out in all directions separated by dusty fields. Its always dry at this time of the year following the dry winter season but this year there has been a severe drought and its even drier than usual. Wood and coal fires are often used for cooking and heating and the the smoke combines with the millions of car exhausts to leave a pall of smog over the rolling hills.

The roads are far better than I expected with a network of freeways and highways supplementing the quieter suburban roads which include the occasional dirt road. Private cars are plentiful and there are also lots of mini-buses which gather on the edges of large intersections and serve as public transport around the city and out into the country. At times wars can erupt between different mini-bus owners and operators as competition for business is strong. Adherence to road laws is patchy with speed limits and red lights not always observed so care needs to be taken when driving. Theft from vehicles is a concern so even when driving our bags, phones and other valuables need to be stored out of sight. Some areas are best avoided so we take local advice, avoid the city centre and also use our common sense to avoid the highly congested spots.

Significant parts of the population live in townships with overcrowding and poor facilities but acres of new housing developments are filling in the gaps between suburbs and attesting to the growing affluence of the population. There are hundreds of shopping centres and lots more in the process of being built. Most we visit are very quiet and it feels like there is already an oversupply. Many are very similar in feel to Australian shopping centres although of course chain names differ. Costs are cheaper than in Australia but not as cheap as usual as the drought has driven costs up because more goods need to be imported.

We are staying in one of the areas between the denser suburbs so there are large blocks of land, many of which are used to keep horses or plant nurseries. Looking out the window there are very few buildings to be seen, just the dry fields and fences. Electric fences surround most properties and elaborate security systems are used. Driving along side roads we pass long high fences and walls topped with barbed wire and many suburbs are totally enclosed with guards on the entrance gates. Certainly a huge difference to the relaxed air in Australia. On the other hand the new suburbs are depressingly similar, huge brick houses are perched on small blocks almost touching each other and the shopping centres compete to be bigger and more sterile than the ones up the road.

I’m sure more time will add to and possibly alter my first impressions but so far its been a pretty easy introduction to this huge continent. Now I’m eagerly waiting to sample some of the country side.

In To Africa

(with apologies to Karen Von Blixen)

Its 6.00am on our second morning in South Africa. We arrived at Johannesburg airport 25 hours ago after a flight that started on the other side of the world 20 hours earlier. Early morning traffic reminds me we are in a built up area but as I sit on the verandah under a thatched roof watching the sky turn pink and blue I listen to the nearby noises include the crowing of a rooster and chirping of the many birds in the trees. The horses are tucked up into their stables and on the next property ducks quack and the goats wait to be led out into their field. One of the two house cats has stirred herself from our bed and winds her way across my lap before announcing she is ready for breakfast and one of the six household dogs barked briefly but has silenced again.

We’re staying with Paul’s sister, Sue, her partner Gary, and Paul’s Mum, Eileen. Sue’s working on a project in Finland but will be back next Saturday and after picking us up from the airport yesterday Gary has headed off for a week of work near Durban. We had an easy introduction to this very busy city with almost deserted roads ensuring the trip from the airport was easy instead of the long process I’m sure it would be any weekday. Normally the easiest travel from the airport would have been to catch a train to a nearby station but the amount of luggage we had would have made that a difficult process so it was great to be picked up. After that we had an easy day, a visit to shops before they got busy, an afternoon nap then an early night with a good overnight sleep and we’re on local time with no jet lag. Ready for adventure!

Today we start the process of picking up our new vehicle, hopefully that will take only a day or two but then again everyone warns us things can take a long time in Africa so we’ll have to be patient. The next couple of weeks will be spent around Jo’burg as we fit out the vehicle ready for travels and I try to discover a bit about this huge city and the nearby country.