In September and October 2015 we had our long dreamed of trip to Africa, specifically South Africa with brief sojourns in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.
We departed Sydney on Tuesday 15 September for Johannesburg. We felt that we were being followed. It was only when we reviewed our photographs that we found we actually were!
On the first morning of our trip we had a half day tour of Soweto, which included a walk around a market, a photo opportunity at Nelson Mandela's house and a visit to the Hector Pieterson Museum. It was very interesting and gave us an idea of the long fight the ANU had. It was an experience we wouldn't have missed. The Hector Pieterson Museum was particularly interesting as were the walls that have been constructed whereby each stone represents someone killed in the fight against apartheid. Even more shocking was the statement that the gaps in the walls represented those who disappeared without trace.
Next we travelled to Pretoria to join the Rovos Rail for a three day train journey to Cape Town. Rovos rail is a refurbished train in the style of the Orient Express and is luxury from start to finish. All meals, wine, beers and spirits are provided along with with three meals per day, a cooked breakfast and four course lunches and dinners with matching wines.
The views as you travel across the Klein Karoo are wonderful. As we approached Kimberley, the train slowed so that we could see the lesser flamingoes as we passed Kamfers Dam. Kamfers Dam is a permanent wetland just minutes by road from the iconic old diamond mining town of Kimberley. The lesser flamingoes flock to this dam because it has an abundance of algae, their favoured food. In an attempt to encourage breeding, experts built an S-shaped artificial island in the middle of the dam This was a success and for the first time the lesser flamingo had a permanent breeding colony in South Africa.
On arrival in Kimberley we were collected from the train and taken on a tour of the Kimberley Diamond mine. We were shown some rather beautiful diamonds. Discovering that the cost of a diamond is more than our combined income, Gil very generously told me I didn't have to buy her one.
We started our stay in Cape Town with a half day tour of the city including a trip to Table Mountain. We were fortunate with the weather and it was a perfectly clear day.
Our only disappointment was missing our Robben Island tour. We arrived at the wharf five minutes after the ferry had departed. We travelled to Cape of Good Hope and the Cape Point lighthouse with stops on the way at Clifton and Camps Bay beaches and Hout Bay for a cruise to the seal colony on Seal Island. Continuing on we travelled over Chapman’s Peak Drive, Cape Point Nature Reserve and then Gil and I walked up to the Cape Point Lighthouse. After Lunch we visited the African Penguin colony at Boulders Beach. Final stop for the day was the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. We were both impressed by the Bonsai trees
Leaving Cape Town the next morning we set off on a trip to Franschoek with wine tastings on the way. We decided to have a wine and cheese evening, so bought a couple of wines, cheeses and bread. We stayed two nights in Franschoek.
We were collected from Franschoek by our guide for the Garden Route Tour. We had expected to be included in a larger group, so it was a pleasant surprise to know that there would only be the 4 of us. Leaving Franschoek, we drove the scenic route through Franschoek Pass to Villiersdorp passing Worcester, Robertson and with a stop at the Old British Fort at Montagu for photographs. It was a long drive through the Klein Karoo to Oudtshoorn, where we stayed in a rondavel (round house). The following morning we had an elephant experience with three orphaned elephants that had been reared and trained at Buffelsdrift. They were gentle and friendly, but as their handlers advised, they are wild animals, can be unpredict
able and should be respected as such. An interesting fact we learned is that elephants can learn and remember about 80 different commands. Significantly more than dogs. Leaving Oudtshoorn we visited an Ostrich farm where a very brave Gil rode an ostrich, which was hilarious.
I decided to take a close-up picture of an Ostrich who was standing near the fence. I focused on the Ostrich who kept moving closer and closer It was a bit unnerving to see the animal growing larger in the viewfinder. Finally I took the picture at which the ostrich darted forward to try and get my lens cap. I was rather pleased with the picture.
On to Knysna where we spent two nights. First evening an oyster and wine cruise where I learnt how to shuck oysters. We followed this
with a rather nice meal at JJ's seafood restaurant. Plettenberg Bay was a wonderful experience. After many unsuccessful trips we finally got to see whales – two Humpbacks and a Southern Right. We followed the cruise with a tour of the Qolweni shanty town and a visit to a school and creche. Delightful children who mobbed us when they realised that we were taking pictures of them. They couldn't understand that for us to take pictures we had to move away from them, so every time we stepped back they crept forward which made taking pictures rather difficult, but great fun.
The final day of the Garden Route tour was a drive from Knysna to Port Elizabeth with a stop at storms river. We walked to the suspension bridge at the mouth of the river. It was a lot of fun trying to get pictures of some of the spectacular wave breaks.
Our First Safaris
Leaving Port Elizabeth we flew to Durban where we were met by our rather flamboyant guide Tinyiko for the next part of the trip. A tour that took us to Thanda Game Reserve, a private game park, a drive through Swaziland to Lion Sands Tinga Lodge at Kruger National Park and finally a scenic drive to Johannesburg with stops at Berlin Falls, God's Window, Bourkes Luck Waterhole and the Rondavels.
Thanda was our first game park and didn't disappoint. We were focused on the big five much to the annoyance of our guide, Dumi:
"you will see what you see"
So it was a great thrill to see elephants on our journey from the gate of the property to the main lodge. Our lodge was huge with a large living area, huge bed, indoor and outdoor showers, a plunge pool and a day bed and a magnificent sunset.
In the morning our first game drive. Lions, Rhinoceros, Zebra, Giraffe. In the evening we saw a very elusive Leopard, Warthogs, Cheetahs and the first of the small five, the leopard tortoise.
Next morning as we left the lodge we saw Hyena so we had also seen two of the ugly five. We sat and watched the Cheetahs at a waterhole before moving on to find a male lion. The thrill of the morning was viewing lions at a kill. We didn't see them bring the Zebra down,but arrived shortly after. One of the Lionesses had it by the throat choking it. She didn't move until it was dead.
Leaving Thanda it was a long drive into Swaziland for an overnight stay before travelling on to Lion Sands. Again we saw the big five, but this time we had a wonderful encounter with a Leopard. When spotted he was walking along the riverbank quite unconcerned by the 2 land rovers full of people busily snapping pictures.
Tinyiko returned to drive us to Johannesburg via the scenic route – God's Window, Berlin Falls, Bourkes Luck Waterhole, 80 million year old potholes, Tinyiko decided that it would make a good picture of us jumping from the bridge, so we did. For some reason, we didn't plummet to our deaths (perhaps they have the same fans there as they have at iFly) and continued on to the Rondevals where we met a wedding party who were very keen to have us take pictures of them.
Arriving in Victoria Falls., Gil and I had our long anticipated bridge swing. Total adrenalin rush. You step off the platform and fall. When you feel you should be starting to stop, you keep on falling at which time you start to scream in terror. Finally you are brought up with a jolt and realise you have survived. Absolutely terrifying, but we wouldn't have missed it.
Following morning we had a tour of Victoria Falls – what falls? Being the end of the dry season, a lot of the falls are dry. Quite cleverly our guide started our tour from the dry end, so that we weren't disappointed when we finally saw them. Even during the dry season they are full of power.
In the afternoon we had the Zambezi Spectacular helicopter flight over the Victoria Falls, complete with rainbow, and Zambezi National Park, an experience never to be forgotten.
We topped off the day with a Boma dinner, altogether a fantastic night where we got to try Mopani worms (tough and gritty, but we got the certificate to say we had eaten them), a lesson in drumming and dancing and our fortunes told.
We are apparently going to have 8 grand children. We were discussing this with one of the other guests in the morning. overhearing the conversation and realising that we have no children, one of the staff at the hotel offered himself for adoption and promised to start work on the grand children immediately.
Leaving Victoria Falls we drove to Botswana and Camp Kuzuma a tented camp that overlooks a waterhole where there might be up to 60 Elephants in residence. Our guide pointed out that it's not so easy to spot wildlife in Botswana because there are no fences even on the borders between the countries. Even so, Gary found us a pride of Lions on our first game drive. He was more interested in showing us the smaller rarer wildlife and introduced us to bird photography, birds in flight specifically. It's really difficult to achieve and it was only after I worked out that setting the camera to manual focus made it possible to get a good shot. I managed to get some great shots of the Lilac Crested Roller. I won't talk about the 500 shutter clicks I made to get a few really good pictures. In addition to the Lilac Crested Roller I got a few of the Kori Bustard in flight. I was constantly frustrated that the Horn Bills wouldn't cooperate with me. Gary also showed us the Ant lion, one of the small five.
Leaving Camp Kuzuma, we headed for Namibia to join the Zambezi Queen for the final three days of the trip on a river safari. We saw a lot more birds, but also Nile Crocodile, Buffalo, Elephant, Lion, Hippopotamus and our second Leopard. As with our first experience she was completely unperturbed by the attention. There must have been 10 boats jockeying for position to provide their passengers with the best view.
It was with great sadness that we headed home from what we agree has been our best ever holiday.