Wednesday, 30 November 2016

South Africa 3 The Kruger!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

South Africa 2

Please excuse the lack of photographs at the moment.. (now updated on all blogs I hope 14.11.16) I am currently experiencing technical difficulties with my blogging app.. nothing is ever easy!

Arriving back in South Africa we spent a night back in Nelspruit at a much busier campsite than when we had left it. There had been an all weekend running race on  so the camp site was packed - we took the last spot and claimed our area! It was buzzing most of the night, it didn't help that we were next to the local shabeen (pub) that was pumping util 2am. At 5am we were woken up by our neighbours who had forgotten that tent canvas isn't sound proof, so we started Sunday rather early and with a frosty 'good morning'! By 8am we were raring to go, having had 3 cups of coffee to kill some time. We drove the short 60km to Hazyview a small town before the southern point of Kruger. Arriving at the immaculate Kiaat Campsite, we had lunch and planned our time there in the boiling sunshine. That afternoon we booked (and paid for on credit card - this fact is relevant) an Ariel zip line over the forest (1.6km of zip line) for the next morning, so arranged to stay in Kiaat for 2 nights with the lovely owner who allowed us to use her washing machine free of charge!

Well waking up the next morning the heavens had opened and the thunder gods were at war.. the rain was lashing down with our back canopy of the tent becoming a lake! As the lightening came down we realised we really didn't want to go zip lining and postponed it till the next morning.. one of the first things we have booked and paid up front for, and we had to post pone it! The rain kept going strong until 2pm when finally it subsided, we had been watching movies under the canopy in the mean time! We had to get out and do something as cabin fever had set in so we drove to the nearest mall to grab a coffee! Bizarrely as we parked we saw a Toyota we recognised.. it was Eve; we had met her and her father at Ngepi Camp (see Namibia blog), who were travelling Southern Africa together (see Figure of 8 Africa on Facebook). She is working at one of the game lodges here, and as we walked back to the car she was waiting for us! It was great to catch up and chat.. what a small world! The sun made a tentative effort to come out that evening, and despite us not enjoying it, the 37mm of rain recorded by the campsite owner was sorely needed for the region. She had told us it was the worst drought since 1905 and the area was struggling.

Tuesday came and the sun was out (suncream on by 7.30am), and we drove to the Skyline tours for 8.30am. After our briefing we were let loose on the Ariel zip line. It was pretty cool, once you got over the 'hope I'm not going to fall' fear, the view was amazing and was the peacefulness. As all things it was over far too quickly (it took us 1.5 hours), and whilst I would recommend it, it was quite expensive! Lunch was a pizza at a local restaurant with a glass of wine, whilst clothes and groceries are comparative to the UK here, eating out it so much cheaper... two pizzas, plus drinks and coffee for £20, you certainly wouldn't get that back at home!

Since leaving on this trip Charles has been desperate to get on a motor bike, if I had a pound for every time he said 'this would be nice on a bike' we would have been able to have funded another year. The previous day when going for coffee we saw an off road bike tour for two hours for £35. I managed to convince him to do it, which is harder than you would think.. he has all these things he wants to do then decides not to at the last minute!  That afternoon,after our lunch out, we drove to a lodge outside of Hazyview where for the next two hours Charles got to go off-road biking with a guide. The tour group was Adrenaline Adventures (see Adrenaline Adventures Hazyview on Facebook) who had been up and running for 6 months. Charles' guide put him through his paces on a Kawasaki KDX200, and his face was like a child's at a Christmas! He came back buzzing, said it was the best money he had spent in a long time - it was at the right level for his ability, and got to go on some amazing trails! Anyone heading that way, he said, and likes motor bikes, should give it a go! I meanwhile, sat in the bar and drank wine, winners all around!!

One more night back at Kiaat, then off on the Wednesday. This wasn't before I got my treat in! There was a stables nearby where you could go on mountain hacks. I arrived and spent the two hours on a horse around the mountains. My guide was fantastic, she knew about the local area, farming and nature and kept me entertained and on my toes for the two hours! We spend the last 20 mins rounding up loose horses which really tested me! Having only been on a horse once (in Malawi) since I was about 12, cantering up and down fields was harder than I remembered! Safe to say I wasn't walking elegantly afterwards and for the next few days was very stiff! Our time in Hazyview had been a real success, and our next stop wasn't far.. Hoedspruit another pre-Kruger town and the attraction we had both been waiting for!

Before reaching Hoedspruit we drove through the Blyde River Canyon, the third largest in the world.. I presume after the Grand Canyon and the Fish River Canyon. Driving through it gave us more stunning scenery. We stopped off at God's Window, a look out point for miles around but were much more in awe at the view at the Three Rondevaals. The weather was stormy in the distance which just added to the dramatic effect of the mountains around us!

After a night next to a fishing dam, where Charles had spent time fishing that night, we woke up again to torrential rain! Thunder and lightening from both sides of the valley crashed until gone 10am. Myself, having developed this annoying habit of waking up at 5.30am, had made coffee in the flasks and taken it back up to the tent. It isn't often we lie around in the tent after we have woken up but the thought of a soaking tent, and soaking clothes kept us up there until 9am! Finally we concluded we would have to get up, and put the tent away wet, not something we like to do especially as we weren't staying in it the next night. After getting some food we arrived at Jessica's house....

Jessica is a hippo.. a tame hippo who lives with a game ranger and his wife on the edge of the Kruger. Having spoken to Shirley, his wife, I had arranged to sleep at their site that night in their tree house. We arrived there at 10.30 and got on the tour to see Jessica. I LOVE hippos, they have so much character and the noise they make never fails to crack me up! Meeting Jessica, I was a little star struck! She was found orphaned due to flooding when she had just been born and had been raised with them. Now she flits between the wild pod and the rangers house, doing star appearances in between, we were able to feed her sweet potato, Roibos tea, as well as give her a little kiss! It was incredible, just being so close to one of natures biggest killers, the biggest killer in Africa, to be able to see her whiskers on her nose, as well as her amazing teeth! It was an incredible experience! We couldn't check into the tree house until 2pm so headed out to an Italian for an amazing lunch of a burger for Charles and gnocchi for myself; washed down with wine and coffee! Arriving back we checked into the treehouse, a three bedroomed house, for our exclusive use! It was homely, basic, but our room was separate accessed by a staircase into the trees.. pretty cool! Next to the Blyde River we spent the afternoon watching Jessica, and Richie, another rescued hippo!

From Jessica, and after having fed her 2 more times, we drove up towards the northern point of Kruger, a town just outside. Arriving a couple of days before gave us time to sort out the car, free up some space and buy food and drink for the Park! Seeing the family was getting close and we were beginning to get excited for the Kruger with them!

(the sunland baobab.. the largest in the world.. it did have a bar inside it but it split!)

#africa #southafrica #adrenalineadventures #jessicathehippo

South Africa (round 2)

I meant to post this blog a few days ago however thanks to a new update on my iPad I didn't even want, my normal blogger app is now not working! Great when you have been writing and it crashes.. lots of swearing at Apple, and now 3 'In the pipeline' blogs to forever stay in the pipeline.. anyway I felt I had written too many blogs about the trip to keep you all in suspense about the final hurdle so I found a new blogging app, and despite the text on screen not keeping up with my typing, has proven thus far to work! May just mean I have to actually proof read my work!

Driving into South Africa from Botswana wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. We had been across here the previous time we have visited Pretoria so we knew the formalities! This time we had to sort out the carnet and also hope I had counted how many days I had on my visa correctly. Leaving Botswana we had to get the Carnet closed, a simple enough process - stamp out of Botswana and the customs officer to fill out the closing page. Because of the 5 country secure customs policy these borders don't often close Carnets so we did have to instruct the officer however once he knew what he was doing it was all fine and our carnet was free to be sent home to get our deposit back (around £400). On the South African side, after explaining about our Carnet expiring, the customs officer agreed to give us a Temporary Import Permit (or TIP), the biggest problem being she couldn't be bothered to do it..! They gave us 6 months for free which will be more than sufficient! The customs officials in South Africa really know what they are doing, and they don't take rubbish from any one.. on the incoming side of the desk a truck driver was trying to get through without a TIP, the customs officer was having none of it and a male officer stepped in as he was disrespectful to the female officer attending him! It was good to see! We left the border only after we were stopped for a pula check by a policeman who was searching for pula as he was 'taking them'.. taking them for his own pocket more like.. despite having 600 on us I politely told him unfortunately not we had spent them all on fuel! Funny how quickly you learn to stretch the truth in Africa!

We arrived in Pretoria at Charles' family around lunch time and were treated to a braai. Mandy arrived home from work, she is now back in the real world, and it was nice to catch up and get up to date with their plans for the future! Things seem to be moving forward steadily for them which is great (they are still posting as Where to Next Africa on Facebook).

We spent a week in Pretoria with the family, the first few days we spent some time shopping - stocking up on bits and pieces, clothes and shoes - and getting the car serviced and washed (!!). This was a painful affair as we only wanted the oils changed but things kept being found that really needed to be fixed.. a small, cheap job turned into an expensive and long job, however at least the car is running fine etc! Mandy had three days off over the weekend so we spent Friday with her and Ronel at the Cradle of Humankind. It was a interactive museum documenting the earths evolution, it was great and included a boat ride through different kinds of rock! We also went to some caves where they found some of the earliest fossils of man - this was hilarious, us four definitely being the naughty school children at the back.. our guid was very funny also attributing and crediting the first 'pout' to Mrs Ples, an example of the first modern woman (or could be man they still aren't sure!). Our journey home included seeing lions, bison, brown wildebeest and a white tiger! Very surreal and only in Africa!

Saturday we went to a beer festival at the Pretoria Botanical Gardens with Megan, Charles and Mandy's cousin, and Matt, her husband. The weather was amazing, and the selection of beer and cider was huge, as well as cheap! The music was pumping and it was a really great day! Arriving home we realised we should probably eat so we headed off to Ocean Basket for sushi! All in all a great day!

After spending Sunday chilling and braaing, Charles and I decided to head off on Monday to explore a little! We drove to Bela Bela, to a hot spring resort.. it was a little like an African Butlins, but the pools and hydropool were lovely! The weather again fantastic as we lazed about around the outside swimming complex! I keep referring to the weather because after crossing the border the weather in general got colder with rain and storms most nights (Ronel and Mandy were convinced we brought it with us!). It was a little too commercial for us and we headed towards Mablingwe, a private game reserve the next day to spend the day and evening. The private reserve was amazing, it wasn't expensive to camp and you could drive around the beautiful landscape with a fair few animals and some spectacular private homes! I had a sneaky look at them online and there were some huge ones.. 7 bedrooms with a gym, swimming pool and private watering hole.. how the other half live!
As the afternoon rolled on the storm clouds began to close in, there is nothing like a storm when you're in a tent (we had experienced this once in Angola), so we got everything ready to weather it out! The rain was pelting down, the thunder rumbling and the lightening ripped across the sky, we soon realised our awning was doing very little to prevent the rain coming in so for the first time on the trip we put the sides up. This helped a lot even when the hail started raining down - this was so strange! In true African style the storm began as soon as it started and the sun was back in the sky! We settled down to our braai and wine finishing of the day in style!

Wednesday was my birthday so back to Pretoria we went to go out for dinner with Ronel, Mandy, Megan and Matt. I was very spoilt, Charles made me breakfast, we went out for lunch and dinner was a very nice pizza and the Village Bistro! A very lovely day, and very lucky to spend a second birthday on the road!

Having around two weeks to spend before my family come over, we decided to head out towards the North Eastern part of the country to end up at the top of Kruger. Our first post of call was Dullstroom, a small English type town set amongst rolling hills and beautiful scenery! Journeying there went past Belfast and were shocked to see so many trees down. They weren't cut down but blown over, roots were up on pine trees that used to stand meters tall, rows of trees and branches ripped off, alongside tin roofs and metal littered across the ground. It was such a shock and we were told they had had a small hurricane type thing in the last few days! Arriving in Dullstroom we realised there were very few campsites, we had an inkling that was the case so headed towards the accommodation centre. The ladies there were fantastic, finding us a one bedroom self catering house for a really good price, they also managed to give us huge discounts so despite it being more than we would normally pay it was cheap in comparison to the UK. The house was fantastic, it was the first time we had rented a house and it was such a luxury! Oven, fridge, toaster, kettle, sofa, DSTV (decent television), two bathrooms, a bath and a very comfortable bed! It even had a small outside area and a braai! Three nights we had booked for and they were well worth the money!

We set off to explore the town the first afternoon - set amongst pine trees, it was a long high street with lots of craft shops, restaurants and coffee bars! We got slightly waylaid by the self proclaimed 'English' pub which was a good substitute and arrived back at the house slightly merry! It definitely felt like we were on holiday! Our second day, after a coffee, we drove the 21 km to Tolteldoos, again the drive was stunning, rolling hills, cliffs and green grass lined the way there, zebra, bonte-bok and heartebeest grazed by the road sides. Animals out of the way it could have been Wales.. we arrived in the small, farming village and stopped off at 'The Cheese Shop'. Our cheese platter of 8 cheeses was amazing, and the home made chutneys topped it off! I am normally a cheddar girl but there wasn't one cheese, including the stinky one, I didn't like! As we drove back we past a biker group sat outside the shop having a drink, we joined them and after getting chatting got given a Honda African Twin hat - Charles was rather happy! We got chatting to Ross who owns a farm in the area, and before we knew it we were chilling at his house by the pool overlooking the surrounding countryside! His hospitality was amazing, and we left after dinner to drive the dodgy road back to Dullstroom!

Saturday, our last day in luxury was spent wandering around the surprisingly busy town.. we have yet to buy many souvenirs and as the trip is coming to a close we are now 'panic' buying! This plan is to our detriment because in South Africa and the more touristy places the prices are a lot more along the West Coast.. serves us right for being tight at the beginning! We managed to find a cheese shop so bought some locally made cheese and munched away on it back home! We won't be making cheese eating a normal thing.. back to the exercise!

We moved towards Sabie along Long Toms pass an alp like road twisting and winding through the mountains. The scenery was awesom and made the driving far more intersting! The car complaining a couple of times.. funny smells coming from the gear box but after a quick cool down and coffee it seemed to be ok!

In Sabie we camped a night there.. back to reality, but we met up with Max whom we had met in Botswana. He came for a beer and invited us to his the next night about 30 minutes away. Leaving Sabie the next morning we visited Chimpanzee Eden, a chimpanzee rescue place. It was a great place, on our tour the guide, who was very knowledgeable, told us the back stories of the 34 chimps they have there. It was amazing to hear the levels of cruelty some of them faced in circuses and private houses.. makes you wonder! The work they were doing there was great, but as like most charitable organisations very under funded. It was definitely worth a visit however! We stayed the night with Max in White River, it was a beautiful house with a very comfortable bed.. having stayed in a proper bed under a proper roof more often than our tent in the last two weeks I feel I may have to get used to being on the roof again!

Leaving White River we stopped off at Max's wood workshop where his family make custom wooden furniture. There were some beautiful pieces, the smell of the wood reminding me of my Grandfather's garage! Funny what smells can do! We had a vague plan to head to Nelspruit, mainly to get an electrical plug converter.. despite us having a South African plug adapter, in most campsites they have electrical hook ups for caravan and trailers.. not useful for us! Finding one in campworld we spent the afternoon walking around the Botanical Gardens. For 30 rand each it was a bargain, with different sections - the river, rainforest and medical gardens. Another successful day trip!

Spending the evening in Lake View Lodge (incidentally with no lake..), we had a little look on the map and realised that being so near to Swaziland we may as well pop in. With the two weeks left before Kruger we have a lot more time than when we are bombing down to Cape Town after. A quick decision, again demonstrating how often our plans change!
#africa #southafrica #overlanding