Here’s a selection of my favourite photos taken during 2017 – from our travels, holidays and birding trips – chosen from my collection of over 2500 photos for the year. Each one has a story attached which I have tried to capture in a few words………..
If you have any favourites, do let me know by adding your comment!
Part Two includes more birds, the reptiles, butterflies and other stuff
Wishing all who may read this a 2018 that meets all of your expectations!
After a long day’s driving, there is nothing I look forward to more than going walkabout and doing some birding. When travelling from Pretoria to our “other home town” of Mossel Bay, we like to make at least one overnight stop, and during our recent trip we decided to try a new (for us – it’s been there a long time) guest farm near Colesberg called Kuilfontein, just 11 kms beyond the town and close to the N1 national road.
Our route included a slight detour to allow for a mid-morning stop at son Stephan’s house in Potchefstroom in the North West Province. He was at work but Liesl was on hand to refresh us with coffee and banana bread before we pressed on. This part of the trip left me with mixed emotions as we passed through several small towns along the R30 route, which traverses the farmlands and goldfields at the heart of South Africa. The summer rains had not yet come and the wind was whipping up the fallow farmlands creating small dust storms, while the mining areas were equally dusty but from the mine dumps being scoured by those same winds.
This is not unusual after the winter and before the rains come (which they did subsequently) so one accepts that the landscape is not particularly attractive at this time of year. What really got to me was when we approached the towns along the way and on the way out again – the plastic bag litter strewn across the fields seems to be the norm nowadays (not just confined to these parts but more noticeable here) – very disheartening and with a bit of effort so simple to rectify you can’t help wondering why nothing seems to be done about it.
Anyway enough complaining and back to the pleasant part of the day.
We reached Kuilfontein farm at 5.30 pm after driving some 760 kms and by 6 pm we were settled in our charming cottage room.
With the prospect of a good one and a half hours of daylight available, I set off with a spring in my step to explore the farm, wondering what I would find.
Starting around the main house, I followed the entrance road which is like a long verdant tunnel with trees both sides almost meeting overhead. There were Sparrows and Doves aplenty, joined by Starlings (Pied, Cape Glossy and Red-winged) and several Cape Robin-Chats to make the walk interesting.
A group of three Korhaans caught my eye in the fields and turned out to be Blue Korhaans – they have a curious way of walking, crouching so that when they are in longish grass, just their rounded backs and the top of their heads are visible, giving them the appearance of fast-moving tortoises as they move about.
By dinner time I had recorded 25 species and called it a day – can’t be late for the Lamb pie!
After an early night and a good rest I was up before 6 am the next morning and was soon out for part two of my Kuilfontein birding, this time covering some new ground which soon delivered with Bokmakierie, Pied Barbet and Cape Clapper Lark amongst others.
From a vantage point on the top of the earth dam wall (bone dry) I could see far across the Karoo scrub – in the background the distant hills were washed blue / pink by the early morning rays. Two elegant Blue Cranes were just discernible in a distant field and as I scanned the horizon three Korhaans flushed about a 100 m away and flew off while calling what sounded to my ears like a very guttural “doctor no, doctor no, doctor no”. I couldn’t help chuckling at the thoughts that my interpretation of their call brought to my head.
It turned out That they were Karoo Korhaans and replaced the Blue Korhaans from the previous evening as my favourite sighting of the short stay.
Soon after, near the entrance gate at the end of the long entrance driveway, another call drew my attention and looking upwards I saw three Namaqua Sandgrouse flying by while calling “kelkiewyn” (pronounced “kelkyvane”) which is also their Afrikaans name. As I watched them they turned in a wide circle in the sky, almost as if acknowledging my presence, then carried on flying into the distance.
Time had also flown by and I headed back for breakfast, adding White-throated Swallow, Wattled Starling, Red-winged Starling and Fiscal Flycatcher on the way back. At the cottage a Malachite Sunbird was moving about amongst the Aloes lining the pathway, the emerald sheen of its feathers glinting in the sun. The garden sprinklers were on so the aloes had drops of water
After breakfast we greeted host Penny, who has the knack of making you feel like part of the family, and headed off on the next leg of our trip, but not before adding Steppe (Common) Buzzard and Red Bishop on the way to the N1.
As always I was atlasing (recording the bird species for submission to the database at the University of Cape Town) and was surprised and very pleased when I discovered that my “full protocol card” (minimum two hours of atlasing) was only the fourth one for the pentad, “turning it green” in atlasing parlance – this is a way of tracking how many times a pentad has been atlased, green indicating that at least four cards have been submitted to provide a statistical base.
Pentad : 3045_2455
Full protocol cards : fourth for the pentad.
Total species recorded : 45 – out of 86 for the pentad to date which equates to a coverage of 53% of the species recorded to date
Pentad location :
New species recorded for the first time in the pentad :
We had heard good things about Prague and wanted to go and see for ourselves, so when planning a Danube river cruise in April 2016 (read about it in my earlier post Danube River Cruise – A Taster), we decided to precede it with a visit to this city and to make it worthwhile we thought a 4 night stay would give us enough time to explore at a relaxed pace and have time for a day tour out of Prague.
On the advice of a friend who had visited Prague a couple of times, we chose the Old Town Square Hotel right in the centre of the historic part of town, which is also the focus of most visitors to the city. This turned out to be an excellent choice as many of Prague’s attractions were within walking distance, while others could be reached after a short ride on the city’s user-friendly tram system. A bonus was being upgraded to a suite with a view of the square, the room being so spacious we could have swung a cat if we had brought one with us, with room to spare.
Our first full day in Prague was the chance to explore the Old Town, so after a lazy in-room breakfast we set off on an extended walk. By this time the Old Town Square was filled with visitors and buskers, as it was for the rest of our stay, and proved to be a constant source of entertainment.
A swing band was playing from early on in great style, elsewhere jugglers, fire-eaters and “living statues” were doing their thing, the latter rather comically taking a regular smoke break, while Segway riders and tour groups with pennant-waving leaders weaved their way through the throngs.
The Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti) dates back to the tenth century, when it served as the market place for the thriving town, is traffic free except for horse drawn carriages and is ringed with historic buildings. It is one of the finest public spaces of any city we’ve seen and has a constant buzz of activity starting early morning and extending deep into the night.
Most famous of the buildings is the Old Town Hall with its impressive astronomical clock which draws a crowd every hour, when the mechanical figures representing the twelve apostles become animated and “walk past” two small windows in a fascinating mini performance.
We started our walking tour by making our way slowly along the Old Town route shown in our guide book, but ended up following our nose, drawn into side streets by interesting buildings and features.
The older streets of Prague have rows of intensely handsome buildings, the like of which we have never before encountered in our many travels, aligned for uniformity of line and height but each one adorned with mouldings and decorative elements to make them unique. We wondered if there is another city in the world with such beautiful classical architecture. No wonder Prague is known as the “Paris of the East”.
Every now and then a noteworthy building caught our eye – religious buildings in particular such as cathedrals and churches. Particularly interesting was the Jewish Quarter with several synagogues which seemed to be drawing groups of tourists who were clearly of Jewish origin.
The old Jewish cemetery was crowded with tombstones, commemorating individuals buried in layers of up to 12 deep over the centuries past, apparently due to severe restrictions on the area that was allowed for burial in the Quarter.
Shops along the way varied from tourist kitsch to exclusive and expensive – Gucci, Burberry, Prada and the like – no prices on display, probably based on the old adage that says “if you need to ask, you can’t afford it”.
Cars outside these shops were equally exclusive – Bentley (ooh, I want one), Lamborghini and the like.
Come lunchtime we were in need of something light to eat – Gerda had spotted an interesting restaurant, U Gomela, so we retraced our steps for a couple of blocks and popped inside. We decided to try their potato soup (Plolevka nabidka den) accompanied by a pilsner and finished off with the coffee and apfelstrudel special (Jablecny zavin) we had seen advertised on the board outside – a very tasty choice as it turned out.
Refreshed, we continued our meander, coming across all manner of interesting sights.
There was even an opportunity for some birding – Chaffinch, European Jay and Blackbird all drew attention to themselves with their song and we were able to track them down in the trees lining some of the avenues – signs of approaching Spring.
By mid afternoon we felt we had done enough walking and found our way back to the hotel, having been out and about for the best part of the day, stopping only to check out the food stall offerings around the Square and settling for a giant pancake (palacinka) which was so large we shared one.
Later, after a good rest, we decided to dine in the restaurant attached to our hotel – called the White Horse and located on an enclosed “outside area” with views of the square and all its activities and heated by large gas heaters to ward off the evening chill. The food was good without being special, but rather expensive, probably due to the prime location.
With day one in this glorious city behind us we looked forward to discovering more of it – day two turned into a mild adventure of sorts, but more of that in the follow up post.
Spring Day is celebrated in South Africa (and the southern hemisphere) on 1st September, which is when the seasons ‘officially’ turn and the days are supposed to get warmer as winter comes to an end and we head towards summer again. No public holiday has been declared (yet?) but it’s just a day when many businesses encourage their staff to dress casually and people forget some of their problems or relegate them to the back of their mind for a while.
We were in Mossel Bay for two weeks leading up to the day and knowing how the weather can vary – up to 4 seasons in one day as our mother used to say of Cape Town – I wasn’t expecting anything different from the typical August weather we had experienced so far. Chilly overcast days were followed by a chilly sunny days, followed by rainy, windy days and then the cycle more or less repeated itself.
So if you had the choice, what would your perfect day look like, weather-wise? If it was possible to choose the perfect Spring Day weather, I would make sure it was pleasantly sunny, the temperature would be not too hot, not too cold – say about 20 to 25 degrees C, there would be a whisper of a breeze to keep things fresh and there would be at most a few fleecy clouds to break the cobalt blue sky.
Well, apart from being a cloudless day, Spring Day in Mossel Bay ticked all my boxes and turned out just about as perfect as it is possible to be.
Gerda had an appointment at the hairdresser in town mid-morning (all of 5 minutes from our house) so after dropping her off, I drove to the “Point” just a short distance away, parked and set off for a walk along the pathway which winds its way past seafront houses and apartments back towards the harbour.
Being the middle of the morning and out of season, it was quiet and I had the seafront virtually to myself, other than a few people walking their dogs, a mother with her small kids at the swings and a lone fishermen on the rocks.
Scanning the seas I could make out two seals lazily swimming and flopping about just off the rocks, while a couple of surfers in black shiny wetsuits that matched the seals coats almost exactly were catching the smooth breaking swells, expertly guiding their boards along the line of rocks.
The tidal pool had hardly a ripple, the surface reflecting the historic St Blaize lighthouse in the background
I had my binoculars with me but didn’t really need them as all the birds I could see were large, familiar and easy to identify with the naked eye – Kelp Gulls wheeling overhead, skeins of Cape Cormorants flying close inshore and just above the waves, Swift Terns making their way to and from the harbour area and African Black Oystercatchers searching for food out on the rocks.
The small stretch of sand between the rocks – I would hesitate to call it a beach – had a few newly washed up shells scattered about.
The views along the way were as perfect as the weather – Mossel Bay at its best – and my soul felt refreshed and calm just from taking in the natural beauty of the scene.
By the way, the photos (other than the Oystercatcher which was taken a day earlier with my “proper camera”) were all taken with my IPhone.
The previous posts on this “Trip of a Lifetime” to Southern Africa by our Canadian family, covered the time spent in Kruger National Park, the nearby Panorama route and the first leg of our trip to Victoria Falls and Chobe Safari lodge in Kasane, Botswana.
Kasane lies in northern Botswana just 80 kms west of Vic Falls and has become well-known to me after a dozen or more visits over the last couple of years for a project in which I’m involved.
With our visit to Victoria Falls behind us, the transfer to Kasane including the Zimbabwe/Botswana border formalities at the border post just outside Kasane went fairly quickly and smoothly and we found ourselves settled in at Chobe Safari Lodge with time to relax for the rest of the afternoon at poolside.
One of my favourite “sundowner” spots is the riverside bar deck in the Chobe Safari camping area right next to the lodge and this is where I took our small group late afternoon.
The weather obliged, making for a sensational sunset and the chance to savour our G and T’s while we watched the spectacle unfold.
Later we made our way to the restaurant for the buffet dinner which was more than pleasant.
Chobe Game Drive
The game drive we had booked for the following morning started at 6 am when we met Bogatsi, our driver and guide for the morning, at the reception. With a vehicle to ourselves, we had plenty of room and we set off to the Sedudu gate just a few kms from the lodge.
Entering the reserve, we headed down the sandy, bumpy track (some call it the “African massage”) towards the river, through pristine woodland, which opens up at one point to allow a wide vista of the river in the distance. Just driving along the Chobe Riverfront route is an experience in itself, particularly for visitors from the northern hemisphere, with any game being a bonus.
Naturally, game sightings are welcome and there was enough to keep everyone interested, despite not having the added excitement of any big cat sightings, which were more than likely close by but hidden by the bush, still quite dense at the tail end of summer.
Hippos were plentiful in the pools adjoining the main river, munching on the partly submerged grasses as only hippos can do, giving us the eye and an occasional yawn or two.
Other game we came across –
the inevitable and numerous Impalas, still enjoyable to see after so many sightings
numbers of Baboons
Buffaloes, one of which had an interesting interaction with a Hippo emerging from a pool, the two eyeing each other cautiously before passing by and continuing with their lives.
Our guide made a point of showing us the distinctive marking on the rear end of Impalas, intimating that this was where McDonalds got the inspiration for their famous “M” logo.
There was no shortage of bird sightings, but the birding tends to take a back seat (where I happened to be as it turned out) when on a game drive such as this, unless the majority on the vehicle are into birding. Nevertheless we chalked up a few special sightings :
a majestic Verraux’s Eagle Owl high in the branches of a tall tree
Long-tailed Paradise Whydah with its spectacular tail
African Fish Eagles seemingly every km or so along the riverfront
Black Heron performing its “umbrella” shading act to help it find aquatic prey
Little Bee-eaters hawking insects in a small clearing
We continued along the river at a slow pace until we reached the picnic spot at Serondela, where coffee was served, after which we returned along the upper road to the exit gate and back to the lodge. It was time for lunch, some time to relax at poolside while the kids swam and before we knew it, it was time to board the river boat for the sun downer cruise.
Chobe Game Cruise
The cruise turned out to be more than I expected – having had the experience of small boat trips along the river in the past, I imagined a large boat with 40 or so passengers would not be anything like as enjoyable. Well, I was pleasantly surprised, with the boat hugging the banks of the river wherever possible and stopping for up close and personal views of everything from birds to crocodiles and hippos, as well as a group of elephants.
The weather played its part, with warm rather than hot conditions and just a light breeze causing hardly a ripple as we cruised gently along and into the Chobe game reserve, wending our way through the channels between the grassy flood plains which attract herds of animals during the winter months.
Here is a portfolio of some of the sightings ……..
The stay at Chobe Safari Lodge was just two days in extent but seemed much longer, with lovely game experiences on land and on water and enough time in between to relax by the pool. A fitting conclusion to a successful couple of weeks touring with “the Canadians”
The previous posts on this “Trip of a Lifetime” to Southern Africa by our Canadian family covered the time spent in Kruger National Park and the nearby Panorama route .
Now for the real Africa!
I had booked a package a few months prior for our small group, which seemed to meet their desire of experiencing Victoria Falls and Chobe Game Reserve. The package included the flight from Jo’burg to Vic Falls and 2 nights in the Kingdom Hotel, followed by a road transfer to Kasane for a further 2 nights in the Chobe Safari Lodge`, ending with a flight back to Jo’burg from Kasane.
Kasane lies in northern Botswana just 80 kms west of Vic Falls and has become well-known to me after a dozen or more visits over the last couple of years for a project in which I’m involved.
In years gone by it would have been a major undertaking to get to the north-west corner of Zimbabwe in order to experience this natural wonder of the world – nowadays regular flights from Jo’burg to the modern airport some 20 kms outside town get you there in just one and a half hours flying time.
We left home in Pretoria on Monday 13th March 2017 with time to spare, so once we had made our way through check-in and the security and passport formalities at OR Tambo, we could enjoy a Mugg and Bean breakfast before boarding the flight.
We landed at 1.15 pm at Vic Falls airport and our transfer was waiting to take us to the Kingdom hotel, where two comfortable rooms awaited us.
On the way we made a short stop to organise bookings for the afternoon excursion – a sundowner cruise on the Zambezi.
Sundowners on the Zambezi
There was time to chill before our 4.30 pm pick-up to take us to the river cruise dock upstream from the falls, where we boarded the Zambezi Royal for a “luxury cruise”, which turned out to be “super cool” in Sarah’s words. It’s worth paying the extra for the luxury of your own table and personal service on the spacious, smooth-riding boat, with drinks and gourmet snacks included ( canapés is what the grand people call them, I think).
As the boat departed we sipped sparkling wine, nibbled on the canapés and tried our best to look the part – there were a couple of other, somewhat more crowded boats passing by at the time, so we had to let them know what they were missing.
The boat headed upstream along Africa’s fourth longest river, with Siloka island on the right, skirting the riverside vegetation. The cruise manager kept us informed on what we were seeing and I was pleasantly surprised at his bird knowledge and spotting ability, with good sightings of White-fronted Bee-eater, Water Thick-Knee, Purple Heron, Pied Kingfisher and others. At each sighting he got the captain to take us close to the river bank for a close-up view.
It did not take long to find the first Hippos and they obliged with their trademark big yawns, showing us their massive jaws and fearsome looking teeth as we approached. We found more pods of hippos as we made our way up river, some with Red-billed Oxpeckers in attendance.
These avian scavengers are tolerated by a variety of animals due to the ‘service’ they provide of taking care of irritating ticks and other parasites. One Oxpecker was determined to stay put, clinging to the nose of a hippo despite its “customer” opening its jaws wide , but eventually it got too uncomfortable for him and he flew off, only to land on the next available hippo.
A large Crocodile, resting on the bank and partly concealed by the long grasses, caused some excitement amongst the passengers as the captain edged the boat up to the bank to allow everyone to get a good view.
We continued for an hour or more until all that remained was to watch the sun slowly set as the sky turned different shades of orange and grey over the Zambezi as we enjoyed a beer of the same name.
All in all, a great way to start our visit to this world-famous corner of Zim! Just not sure how we can keep up the high level of excitement that the sightings and doings have caused amongst the Canadians.
A Walk in the Rain Forest
If it’s Tuesday it must be …. time to ‘do’ the Falls, which is what the Canadians had come to see, after all.
After a good hotel breakfast in the large, open air dining room, we first walked to the nearby shopping area for a couple of essentials (a hat and sunscreen for me) trying not to make eye contact with the vendors with their billion dollar notes and wooden bowls etc. From there we headed back down the road past our hotel and along a pretty flower lined pathway that ended near the Falls entrance.
You would think that entrance to one of the seven ‘natural wonders of the world’ would be quick and automated, but no, the cashier laboriously writes out an invoice in long hand for each purchase of a ticket. Just a tad frustrating, but nothing could spoil the experience that awaited.
The views were as breath-taking as my previous visit 18 months ago, more so for our visitors seeing it for the first time, but compared to my earlier visit there was a lot more water gushing in shiny brown torrents over the edge and into the steaming turmoil below. What power!
We meandered along the pathways, with the spray from the falls varying between barely noticeable droplets to the equivalent of a light summer rainstorm and by the time we reached the bridge at the furthest end of the walk we were pretty much drenched.
There are a number of viewpoints along the way, each one numbered and each presenting the falls from a different perspective, all of them spectacular. The roar of the falls accompanies you as you make your way from one viewpoint to another.
Birds were rather scarce other than a few in the rain forest, such as White-browed Robin-Chat, Tropical Boubou and Paradise Flycatcher. Butterflies made for a splash of fluttering colour amongst the greenery of the rain forest and a group of Mongoose moved through the undergrowth.
Our last stop before turning back was at the bridge viewpoint with its grand view of the man-made structure from the colonial era that is still impressive.
Back at the entrance, tired after the longish walk, we enjoyed a thirst quencher and Alex ordered a toasted sandwich which a beyond cheeky monkey decided to plunder, appearing out of nowhere and giving us all quite a fright. The restaurant brought a replacement and the “monkey guard” appeared with a catapult which settled things down again.
The afternoon was spent relaxing and for the evening meal we decided to try the nearby (nothing’s very far in this town) Mama Afrika restaurant which had a delightful African flavour and atmosphere enhanced by a jazz band and a short power outage.
The next morning was our last in Vic Falls – I decided to take an early morning walk through the extensive gardens of the hotel and along some of the paths that lead to the Falls. It turned into an interesting walk when one William, curio seller, decided he had nothing better to do and accompanied me, showing me the quieter paths, where he also spotted and pointed out a few birds, although he didn’t know their names. In return I told him some of the names, showed him their illustrations on my Roberts App and played the calls – I could see he showed an interest and I suggested he learn more about the local birds so that he could perhaps help tourists with a birding bent in future. He asked that, if I came back to Vic Falls, I bring him a bird book to learn from – who knows, maybe that will happen – I would certainly love to help him.
The hotel grounds were good for Emerald Cuckoo which called frequently during our stay, Black-collared Barbet, Red-winged Starlings aplenty and Pied Wagtails at the pool. Village Weavers were nest-building in the reeds at one of the hotel ponds – at first I thought they were Lesser Masked-Weavers as the black on their heads extended well down their necks, unlike any Village Weaver I had seen before. Checking my Roberts app I realised that they were a sub-species of the Village Weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) we are accustomed to in South Africa, with the scientific name ploceus cucullatus nigriceps and occurring in the northern parts of our region.
After joining the others for another sumptuous, relaxed breakfast, we had some time to kill so walked to the adjoining Vitoria Falls Hotel, still magnificent in its colonial splendour. You almost expect Rhodes himself to appear on the verandah at any moment in his pith helmet and join you in gazing at the classic view of the bridge in the distance, framed by the gorge and forever shrouded by the misty spray.
Soon after our bus arrived to transfer us to Kasane for the next leg of our trip…….. more about that soon.
The previous post on this “Trip of a Lifetime” to Southern Africa by our Canadian family covered the short time spent in Kruger National Park .
With Kruger Park “done and dusted” and still on a high from the special sightings we enjoyed during our two night stay in Satara, our next destination was Thaba Tsweni Lodge near Graskop in Mpumulanga for a further two nights. The intention was to use the lodge as a base for some exploratory drives along the Panorama Route.
Bourke’s Luck and Graskop
After the excitement and long drive of the previous day, we decided to take it easy and limit our exploration of the Panorama Route, while still fitting in a celebration of niece Sarah’s birthday somewhere along the way.
Starting with a late breakfast at the lodge, we left around 10 am and headed up the R532 to Bourke’s Luck Potholes, which lies at the confluence of the Blyde and Treur rivers (Blyde translating to “happy” and Treur translating to “sad” – one can only wonder what events led to those names).
At Bourke’s Luck we had a walkabout along the pathways leading to the various viewpoints, which were quite busy as a couple of busloads of tourists had arrived just before us.
This didn’t detract from the experience of seeing this unique natural occurrence – potholes scoured into the bedrock of the river by waterborne sand and rock over millions of years, creating huge cylindrical holes and exposing the variously coloured layers of rock.
There was time to check out the curio stalls before returning along the same road, with its beautiful landscapes around every corner, to Graskop in time for a pancake lunch at the famous Harrie’s Pancake restaurant to celebrate Sarah’s birthday. Harrie’s did not let us down and we enjoyed a variety of their pancakes amongst us.
Some light shopping followed then we headed back to the lodge where everyone chilled in their own way, before getting the evening braai up and running.
A cabbage bought for all of R5 from a farmer was transformed into a delicious fried dish by Sarah and became the perfect accompaniment to the braai-ed wors.
Another memorable day!
God’s Window, then homewards
Another full day of travelling lay ahead so we girded our loins (and some other parts too) with a full lodge breakfast. One place that we had to see before heading back to Pretoria was God’s Window – so named for the panoramic views it offers of the lowveld more than 900 m below the escarpment and beyond to the Kruger Park and even, on a clear day, to Mozambique a 100 or so kms distant.
We managed a quick walk to the viewpoints and up the steep-ish path to the rain forest, then down again.
Then it was just a question of getting back to Pretoria, interrupted only by a stop at Milly’s for lunch, arriving home by late afternoon to allow time for a ‘meeting of the cousins’ at home.
Sunday was reserved for a family day with all getting to know each other, interspersed with some of Gerda’s home cooking and much excitement amongst the grandkids and their new-found family.
More to Come
Next we do a 4 night trip to Victoria Falls and Chobe Game Reserve – more about that in the next Part of the story….
When “Overseas Family” come to visit us in South Africa, it is always a big occasion which is eagerly anticipated, so we were thrilled when niece Sarah announced more than a year ago that she was bringing their family from Canada over to Southern Africa for a “Trip of a Lifetime” in March 2017. Even better was the news that my sister Sheila (Sam to them) would be joining them for the trip.
Our task was to organise the northern leg of the trip, which had to include Kruger National Park with Victoria Falls and Botswana being high on their wish list. We soon had a Kruger booking pinned down, together with a short stay on the Panorama route in Mpumulanga, which took care of most of week 1 of the two-week northern leg.
A day after their arrival in SA we set off around 8 am, the vehicle and trailer loaded to capacity, heading east through Highveld grassland and the coalfields of Mpumulanga, power stations just visible in the distance through the light haze.
First stop was at Milly’s near Macahdadorp for a really good brunch – Millys scramble for me – and strong coffee to set us up for the next stint. Past Nelspruit and on to White River and Hazyview, then a slow section passing through almost continuous rural villages and slow traffic until we at last reached Kruger gate at 3.15 pm.
At the gate we heard that the Skukuza / Tshokwane road was closed due to a bridge damaged by floodwaters and the gate personnel suggested we turn around and head further north to Orpen gate. This idea did not appeal to me one bit, as my quick calculation told me we would not make it in time, so I insisted that the detour route in Kruger via Lower Sabie would be far better.
They let us through, but I knew that we would now have to cover some 150 km, which at the 50 km/h Kruger speed limit would also mean a very late arrival at Satara and we would have no spare time for game viewing.
Fortunately the traffic was light, but this did not apply to the bird life on the road, which was plentiful and lethargic, so much so that I had to be fully alert to try to avoid them when they flew up, sometimes towards the car instead of away from it. This resulted in some sharp braking and much hysterical laughter, but unfortunately a few unavoidable casualties as well, leading to comments from some of the passengers about the driver being a so-called keen birder and naturalist, but having an alter-ego bird-killer personality. What can I say? I’ve been found out.
None of this was conducive to the relaxed drive I had hoped for when introducing visitors to Kruger, nevertheless we made good time and reached Satara at 6.05 pm as the gate was being closed, somewhat exhausted.
We saw a fair amount of game along the way but often just fleeting glimpses due to not having any time to stop or even slow down. However, one short stop at a dam with a pod of Hippos caused great excitement.
After settling in at Satara, we braai-ed some wors and it was not too long before we collapsed into bed.
We were up reasonably early, in a far more relaxed frame of mind and ready for a more conventional game drive at a relaxed pace. Our one full day in Kruger needed to be a classic and the obvious choice of a route from Satara was the road to Nwanetsi for brunch – a route that is almost guaranteed to have a selection of plains game and other interesting sights. Once again it did not disappoint……..
As we meandered slowly along the S100 gravel road through the open tree savannah south-east of Satara, we had regular game sightings, every one causing much excitement and amazement amongst our visitors, even the animals we have come to regard as mundane, so that there was a constant buzz in our vehicle.
It was a reminder of how privileged we are in this country with our wonderful National Park system and the joy of the Kruger experience, while seeing it all through fresh eyes added a special dimension.
Along the way we had good views of Zebra, Giraffe, Waterbuck, Wildebeest, Kudu and others, while on the birding side I stopped for some of the more striking species – European Rollers were plentiful, Woodland Kingfishers not far behind, African Hawk-Eagle showed nicely and Vultures were easy sightings. Hornbills are always a favourite with visitors, being easily visible and we saw several Yellow- and Red-billed Hornbills.
The sighting of the day was reptilian – two crocodiles at a low water bridge with a shallow stream of water flowing over it, swollen by the recent heavy rains. They were waiting patiently at the downstream edge with jaws open, ready to snap shut if a fish was swept their way – about as up close and personal as I have ever been to these large reptiles! As we slowly edged across the bridge, the car’s wheels disturbed the flow, causing the crocs to back up warily before returning to their positions once we were past.
Brunch at Nwanetsi was a real bush breakfast spread – eggs, bacon, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes and bananas – Alex provided essential help to the chief cook (me).
A short, steep walk took us to the viewpoint above the picnic spot with its sweeping views over the surrounding veld, then we headed slowly back to Satara, diverting briefly to the Sweni hide, where there was not much activity. Back in camp it was time for a lengthy nap to rekindle the energy, followed by some relaxation and the evening braai.
Satara to Phabeni Gate
In order to make the most of our short stay in Kruger, we returned the same way we had come – via Lower Sabie and onwards to Phabeni gate. The trip turned out to be a lot longer than expected – for good reasons as we had some very exciting sightings along the way – 3 Rhinos, 2 Lionesses and to end with a bang, 2 male Lions right next to the road.
The buzz in the car went up a level or three and on top of these special sightings we saw upwards of 200 elephants in small and large herds at various points along the way. What a wonderful way to conclude our short trip to Kruger and to be able to share these great sightings with our visitors!
To make it easier on the passengers (and driver) we stopped regularly – firstly at Tshokwane picnic spot for coffee and muffins, then at Lower Sabie for a lunch of toasted sandwiches and finally at Lake Panic hide near Skukuza for a brief look at the birds. Strangely the hippos that usually frequent Lake Panic were not visible.
The trip through Kruger took all of 8 hours compared to the 2.5 hours it took on the way in!
But it was the special sightings that had all of us enthralled.
The 3 Rhinos were grazing peacefully in long grass some distance from the road, offering brief views of their unique horns now and again.
We came across the 2 Lionesses walking on one side of the road, then crossing the road and continuing leisurely on their way into the long grass on the other side.
The male Lions gave us a great show as we first saw one right next to the road, with a car parked next to it virtually within touching distance, but also mostly obscuring it from view. The car’s occupants seemed to have the attitude that the lions belonged to them and no one else, as they showed no inclination to move and allow anyone else a decent view – very frustrating!
However, luck was on our side as Alex (our new chief spotter) saw a Lion approaching out of the bush and I quickly got our vehicle into position when it flopped down in the road just a few metres further, with unhindered views for a few minutes before we decided to move on. The temptation to thumb our noses at the selfish people in the other car was great, but good manners got the better of us.
All that remained of our Kruger expedition was to exit at Phabeni Gate, with the time now 5.30 pm, and find our way to Graskop, then on to Thaba Tsweni lodge for the next leg of the trip – more on that in a future post.
When “Overseas Family” come to visit us in South Africa, it is always a big occasion which is eagerly anticipated, so we were thrilled when niece Sarah announced more than a year ago that she was bringing their family from Canada over to Southern Africa for a “Trip of a Lifetime” in March 2017. Even better was the news that my sister Sheila (Sam to them) would be joining them for the trip and brother Andrew would join them for the southern leg.
Our task was to organise the northern leg of the trip, which had to include Kruger National Park with Victoria Falls and Botswana being high on their wish list. We soon had a Kruger booking pinned down, together with a short stay on the Panorama route in Mpumulanga, which took care of most of week 1 of the two-week northern leg. A while later we secured a travel package which included a couple of nights each in Victoria Falls and Kasane Botswana which filled week 2, so we were all set.
The Highlights – Places, Sights, Food
The following is a brief diary of the two weeks, which I will no doubt expand on in further posts.
Monday 6th – Pretoria
The family arrived on Sunday evening (Alex, Sarah, Cassie and Rio) and Monday morning (Sheila) so Monday was a day of recovery and orientation for their travel-befuddled and time-zoned brains. Gerda prepared a nice supper with “just enough chicken” to go around (3 whole chickens with one in the wings just in case!)
Tuesday 7th – Pretoria to Satara Camp in Kruger
We set off for Kruger in the morning, loaded to capacity in our SUV plus luggage trailer. Mid-morning we stopped at Milly’s for the customary brunch and a good coffee, which set us up nicely for the rest of the day.
The journey took more or less the whole day and included an unexpected deviation in Kruger so we arrived at Satara just as the gate was closing at 6.05 pm (more on that story in another post!)
The evening braai allowed us time to reflect on the long day’s travelling and sights seen on the way to Satara, albeit a bit rushed!
Wednesday 8th – Satara to Nwanetsi
We had just two nights in Satara camp in Kruger so made the most of it with a long morning game drive on the Wednesday to Nwanetsi, where we prepared a genuine Kruger brunch. The afternoon nap time allowed everyone to rekindle their energy.
The route to from Satara to Phabeni Gate took almost the entire day, travelling at a slower and far more respectable pace, with stops at Tshokwane, Lower Sabie and the Lake Panic hide along the way. From Phabeni it was a short drive to Graskop and onwards to Thaba Tsweni Lodge for a two-night stay. The day was filled with interesting and exciting sightings with Kruger in superb condition after the good summer rains.
The evening meal was not in a restaurant as planned (we just could not face the trip to Graskop and back at night having seen the state of the road) , but a Chef’s Table conjured up by Gerda and Sarah with all the goodies packed by Gerda “just in case”.
Friday 10th – Panorama Route (Lite)
Sarah’s birthday was celebrated at Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop, after a late start and a visit to Bourke Luck Potholes (the kind formed by eons of water and grit action on soft rocks) and a section of the Panorama Route. A cabbage bought for R5 from a farmer was turned into a delicious fried dish that evening by inventive Sarah.
Saturday 11th – Graskop to Pretoria
Our first stop after breakfast at the lodge was God’s Window for a walk to the viewpoints and up the path to the rain forest.
From there we headed homewards to a “meeting of the cousins” , only stopping for lunch at Milly’s.
Sunday 12th – Pretoria
More family time as the cousins and their progeny got to know each other, interspersed with some of Gerda’s home cooking and much excitement amongst the youngsters.
Monday 13th – Pretoria to Victoria Falls
Off to OR Tambo for the flight to Victoria Falls, where we landed just after 1 pm and we were soon at the Kingdom Hotel.
We did the “Sunset Cruise” (Luxury version) which was “super-cool” in Sarah’s words, seeing Hippos and Crocs up close, followed by a meal in the local Spur.
Tuesday 14th – Victoria Falls
After a good buffet breakfast we walked down to the Falls and meandered along the path with heavy spray drenching us in parts but not enough to spoil the views.
We whiled away the afternoon at the poolside and dinner was at Mama Afrika restaurant with a genuine African flavour.
Wednesday 15th – Victoria Falls to Kasane
Another sumptuous breakfast and a short visit to the adjoining historical Victoria Falls Hotel, then it was time for our transfer to Kasane by small bus. There we checked into the Chobe Safari Lodge and relaxed over a light lunch and swimming at the pool.
A walk to the riverside “Sundowner Spot” was the opportunity for G&T’s and a spectacular sunset, followed by the Lodge’s Buffet Dinner to round off the day.
Thursday 16th – Chobe National Park
An early morning game drive into Chobe and an afternoon boat cruise on the river took up most of the day, with enough time for relaxing in between.
Friday 17th – Kasane to Pretoria
Today was all about getting back to Pretoria, where Gerda had a special dinner planned to end the northern leg of the Canadian’s visit.
Tomorrow they fly to PE to meet up with Andrew, their “tour guide” for the southern leg.
Exploring Southern Africa's Natural Wonders and beyond