Veggiephile

South African Safari – Road trip through South Africa and Swaziland

It is about time for another travel post. Last year this time in January I was travelling through South Africa and Swaziland for a two week road trip to see as many animals as possible. I had never been to the African continent before (“ticking” the last continent off my list – I will write about Antarctica another time). And I had also never been on safari. But, alas, I planned the trip myself with helpful tips from friends and online forums, pre-booking all accommodation due to January being high season in South Africa, and it was fantastic. So I would also like to share the trip with you if you’re also planning one or thinking about it. I will do it in diary style, for a change. It will be a long post therefore, but I hope you enjoy nevertheless (and there are lots of pictures too!).

Day 1 – Arrival in Durban

We land in Durban in the afternoon after a long trip via Nairobi and Johannesburg. After picking up our rental car from First Capital Cars (we rented the second smallest category which was a nice Chevrolet Sonic), we drive to our B&B to relax. Beware, when you drive out of the airport, there is a highway fee (R5) to be paid at a machine that does not accept Visa cards, so make sure to exchange some money in the airport already – we didn’t and a friendly (and rushed) local paid ours. We spent our 1st night at the wonderful Virginia Forest Lodge in North Durban, in a spacious and tastefully decorated room. There is also a pool to cool down, and a terrace to sit on. After a long shower, we chat to the manager and then go to a nearby little shopping centre to withdraw some money and to have dinner. There are various restaurants on top of the mall providing a view of the sea. We decide to eat at Jack’s Seafood; my pescetarian other half goes for a fish and seafood platter, I get a delicious salad with avocado and brown lentils. We also enjoy a bottle of a South African Sauvignon Blanc while the sun sets. In the mall there is also a small SPAR supermarket that we peek in after dinner, only to discover the fantastic selection of Fry’s vegan meat substitutes. We get a few hot and cheap veg samosas as drunk food on the walk back to the B&B. A lovely start into the trip.

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Delicious avocado and lentil salad at Jack’s Seafood in North Durban

Day 2 – Durban to St. Lucia

After a good night of sleep we wake up at 6 am and make ourselves coffee and tea in the room, which we enjoy on our big balcony while watching birds and little vervet monkeys circling the neighbourhood. After the massive English breakfast in the B&B (I told them I was vegan beforehand and they got me extra milk for cereal) we pack up and hit the road along the coast up North after stocking up on food in the SPAR from last night. We quickly check out a couple of beaches in North Durban, but they are all still trashed from New Year’s Eve parties, as we see the cleaning brigades moving in. So on we drive, through green hills and massive gum tree plantations. At some point the car thermometer shows 43°C! In St. Lucia we check into our holiday apartment (The Bridge Holiday Resort). The receptionists are not very friendly or helpful, and our flat is still not cleaned when we arrive (and the bed is left only half way made up for us to finish). They also inform us that the water is only running a few hours in the morning and a few in the evening as there is a severe draught. Oh well, manageable.

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Fruit stalls along the main road in St. Lucia

St. Lucia is a little town next to a lagoon in which hippos and crocodiles live. The best way to see them is to take a little cruise on the lagoon. There appeared to be two providers of these cruises, one in the National Park centre (which is pretty much just a pretty building by the lagoon with a souvenir shop and not much information) and one sold by the Tourist Information right in town. I had read that the sunset cruises around 5 pm were the best ones as the animals are active and the light is pretty, so I want to do that. We get our tickets at the Tourist Information and then walk along the main street to see what the town has to offer (not much, it purely lives off the lagoon tourism). We buy some delicious fresh fruit from some ladies on the roadside and make ourselves a fruit salad that we have for lunch. At 4.30pm we make our way to the jetty of the boat which is at the end of the main street. Before we board, a few young guys perform some Zulu dances to earn some tips, but it is a little too much staged authenticity for my taste. On the pontoon boat we manage to get a seat on the top deck in the front, which is great as we are avid photographers. Our captain explains a lot about hippos and the lagoon in the next 2 hours. We learn that hippos are pretty much vegan and consume 30 to 40 kilograms of grass every day. They don’t swim, but they run on the ground under water with a speed of up to 20 km/h, and on land with up to 40 km/h. Better run fast if you need to escape them! During those two hours of cruising on the lagoon we see a lot of hippos, also mothers with their babies (so cute!). We also observe many different birds such as Grey Heron, Yellow Billed Stork and the African Kingfisher. We also spot some zebras, waterbucks and impalas on the banks of the lagoon. Only crocodiles do not really show themselves. We spot two pairs of eyes that immediately dive again. In early January, the captain explains, the crocs breed and watch over the eggs, and are therefore more in the tall grass than in the water. But it doesn’t really matter to us that we do not see more of them as the cruise, the sunset and the hippos make for a great atmosphere. We make ourselves some dinner in our flat kitchen and enjoy some more of the delicious South African grape juice (a Chardonnay this time), before dreaming of hippos at night.south-africa_st-lucia_hippo

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Hippo mum introducing her newborn baby to the water and later to a larger hippo group.

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Herd of waterbucks coming to the lagoon for a sundowner.

Day 3 – St Lucia beach day

We had wanted to go to the nearby iSimangaliso Wetland Park today, but do not hear the alarm clock (not for the last time, as you will discover…) and sleep until 7:30 am. It is already quite hot, so we decide to go to the park tomorrow instead and spend the day in the town and on the beach in St. Lucia. We buy some water in the supermarket next door and head towards the nearest beach. The parking spots there are numerous and free. When we arrive to the beach at about 9:30 am it is pretty much empty – and very beautiful. Even though a strong wind is swirling the sand through the air, the setting of the beach, being flanked by mountains, and the deep blue water of the Indian Ocean take out breath away. The waves are quite high and strong that day. No swimming possible due to the currents, but some wave hopping (one of which knocks me over at some point – I bet Neptune was laughing). Little by little more tourists come to the beach, a lot of South African families on holidays, and the kids enjoy jumping into the waves. I chat to the beach guard for a bit who checks the beaches for security, but are not trained lifeguards. In the early afternoon we head back into town as the sun is getting stronger and a couple of hours on the beach is enough for me. We go for lunch at Barraca; I eat a mediocre veg paella and the boyfriend another seafood platter. The beer (Castle) is cool and tasty, and the relaxed atmosphere is nice. We do some shopping in the SPAR supermarket for the next days, including some of Fry’s vegan prawns which I have fried on a salad later. We spend the evening watching a movie and go to bed early to go to the park early tomorrow morning.

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Beach near St. Lucia

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Veg paella at Barraca in St. Lucia

Day 4 – St. Lucia and iSimangaliso Wetland Park

We get up early and make ourselves a massive English breakfast to fuel us for a day of animal spotting. iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains a variety of ecosystems such as lakes, coastal forests, swamps and some of the highest vegetated coastal dunes in the world. At 6:30 we are the entrance of the Wetland Park, about a 10 minute drive from St. Lucia. We pay R140 for two adults and a car for one day, which was about 8 Euro in January 2016. A few hundred metres after the entrance we cannot believe our luck: a herd of white rhinos is grazing in the morning sun, including a few young ones. What a start! After watching them and taking countless photographs, we head further into the park, stopping at various viewing points. We see zebras, waterbucks, impalas, warthogs, blue wildebeests, and a dung beetle rolling along. At a viewing platform we just miss a leopard, but see its massive footprints in the sand. We stop at Mission Rocks for a while, watching an angler, and then drive on to Cape Vidal, where the beach is quite busy with tourists. We spend most of the afternoon there, watching cheeky vervet monkeys stealing food from tourists, and laying on the beach (and napping – after all, we got up quite early). The waves are not as high and strong as yesterday, but still nowhere near to be able to actually swim or snorkel. We then headed back into St. Lucia as the gates of the park close at 6 pm already, so if you are not staying in the accommodation in the park, you need to be out by 6 pm. Very happy with our first real day of safari, we cook dinner, pack up and go to bed early again.

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A herd of white rhinos and two warthogs grazing in the morning light.

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A male kudu, a larger kind of antelope, enjoying some shade.

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Angler at Mission Beach, iSimangaliso Wetland Park

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Vervet monkey eating Cheetos at Cape Vidal – I have seen it all now.

Day 5 – St. Lucia through Hluhluwe National Park to Ithala Game Reserve

After another early rise, we eat left-overs for breakfast, pack up, wave goodbye to the seaside, and then drive for about 1 hour to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park, passing many South African walking to work along the streets. Hluhluwe (read: shloo-shloo-wuh) is a hilly National Park in the heart of Zulu country, and is the oldest national park in Africa. Before flying to South Africa, we bought the WildCard online which gives you access to all parks of the National Park Services, and is a good investment if you are planning on visiting a few. That way we didn’t think twice about just “passing through” Hluhluwe on our way North. It is pretty hot today in the morning already, so we don’t expect to see many animals, but we are proven wrong after driving for about 15 minutes into the park: a big herd of baboons crosses the street, including many young ones. We then spot two zebras, and through our binoculars we see our first elephants crossing a dried out river bed! We drive down towards the river, and spot a lot of impalas and later on giraffes. A lone water buffalo wallows in the muddy banks of the river. We drive up the mountain to Mpila camp. We were planning on leaving the park through the Gengeni gate, but the road from the camp to the gate is not paved and a pain to drive in our little car, so we turn around and go back to the paved main roads.south-africa_hluhluwe_car-landscape

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Giraffes and impalas in the dried out river bed in Hluhluwe National Park

We leave Hluhluwe and head further North, passing through some still very poor and arid homelands, and later through greener, more fertile areas dotted with traditional Zulu farms. We arrive at Ithala Game Reserve in the afternoon, and are greeted by giraffes and zebras upon entering the park. It was a long drive, but worth it. Ithala is set against a mountain, and we move into our beautiful and spacious cabin nestled right below. The reserve is quiet, and there are not many tourists around, just as we like it. We check out the pool after unpacking, but a cool wind is blowing and the water is obviously not heated, so it just makes for a short refreshment. Instead, I have a long bath in our chalet. We book a guided morning drive for the next day, and spend the evening reading and relaxing while a thunderstorm is raging outside.south-africa_ithala_giraffe-zebras

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Our cabin by the mountains in the Ithala Game Reserve.

Day 6 – Ithala Game Reserve

A full day in the reserve without driving anywhere else, but that doesn’t mean we sleep in! We are up very early for our morning drive, wrapped in hoodies and our rain jackets as the air is still cool. Apart from us, there is just one other tourist with us on the drive, guided by Joseph. We head into the Western part of the park, and are again lucky to see many many animals. After only a few minutes, we spot two black rhinos grazing in open pasture, a brother and sister, as our guide tells us. This would be a very rare sighting, as black rhinos tend to keep to themselves and usually do not feed in open grassland. They have a good sense of smell and  hearing, and are rather aggressive, so we make sure to observe them from a good distance and to check the wind is not blowing our scent into their direction. We then head further into the park, passing grazing zebras and a herd of impalas near a river. Then another two rhinos stomp towards us! Guide Joseph stays calm as we get nervous in our seats. It is only white rhinos, friendly ones, so to say (they are usually non-aggressive towards humans). They are just checking if we are their mum as they had lost theirs a few month earlier to poachers. It is impressive that the guide can tell the animals apart, and we learn a lot about their habitats and the conservation efforts of the game reserve during the drive. We have a breakfast break with hot tea and coffee and snacks (there are nuts and müsli bars- dairy free) before continuing our drive through the beautiful mountains of the park. We see more giraffes, a blue wildebeest and a buffalo, some more antelopes such as kudus and elands, a hyxa, and some elephant poo (sadly, no elephants though). What a great start into the day! We get back at about 9 am, just in time for breakfast. It is included in the price of renting the chalet, and we enjoy it in the restaurant of the camp, overlooking a watering hole.

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Our guide Joseph driving us through Ithala Game Reserve on a morning drive.

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Two Black Rhinos (siblings) in the early morning.

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Curious impalas at Ithala Game Reserve.

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White Rhino coming through!

Later, we snoop around the souvenir and curio shop for a bit, check emails (old habits die hard), and then relax before we make some pasta for lunch in our cabin. We then decide to go on a self-guided drive in the afternoon, along the Bergvliet Loop in the Eastern part of the reserve. We drive along the mountains for about two hours, stopping frequently to admire the beautiful landscape (especially at the Phongala River view point) and the many animals. We spot big herds of zebras, impalas and gnus, a lot of them with their young ones in tow. Another wonderful drive. We are in love with Ithala! We head back to our cabin, cook some dinner (today some roast veg and Fry’s hamburgers) and then snooze off after an eventful day full of animals.

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Stunning views from the Bergvliet Loop at Ithala Game Reserve

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Two wildebeests exchanging the latest gossip before taking a mud bath.

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Mother zebra weaning her young one while impalas watch us.

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Phongala River viewpoint; the river marks one border of the park

Day 7 – Ithala to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (Swaziland)

On the way out of the reserve in the early morning, a few giraffes waves us off. We drive for about three hours to the border of Swaziland. First we need to pass through South African customs, then passport control, then the same thing on the Swazi side. The bf had missed to get a visa for Swazi beforehand (check their website for current info on which nationalities need one), but he took all the necessary paper work with him, so they just tell us to get a visa in the capital Mbabane before leaving Swaziland, otherwise he cannot get out. The officers are all super friendly, and they even provide us with two tourist newspapers to give us some information about Swaziland. We pay a gate fee of R50 and enter the little landlocked kingdom of Swaziland! We have another 2.5 hour drive to our next destination, passing through the seemingly poorer South of the country, and then towards the centre where is seems more prosperous. The roads are in good shape and well maintained, also by traffic wardens, so we forge out R120 for a speeding ticket. Oops. Before we arrive to the national park we are staying at tonight, we buy some fruit and veg from some street sellers for a bargain price. We finally arrive to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. I have been wanting to stay here since it is one of the few parks that allow you to walk around on your own as there are no big predators in the park. We move into our beautiful cabin at the Sondzela Backpacker Hostel in the heart of the park. A massive garden surrounds the hostel, and the view from the cabins is priceless. The shared kitchen, social areas and pool are also great. Again, there are not many tourists (as in comparison to the Christmas and New Year’s period where they had to close the park some days due to overcrowding). We are happy to stretch our legs and take a walk. We pass by antelopes, warthogs and wildebeests, observe some dung beetles doing their hard work in the wind, see some vervet monkeys swinging in the trees above us, and see some bright yellow birds guarding their hanging nests. At the so-called hippo pool a ranger shows us two crocodiles! Pretty cool, as long as the stay where they are. The ranger tells us, though, that the crocs are only small ones that do not eat humans, only impalas. No worries then. We head back to the hostel and cook some dinner, which we enjoy sitting by the pool and overlooking the mountains of Swaziland, while also featuring some of the fine hop juices produced in this country. We go to bed early after another long day.

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Sondzela Backpacker’s cabin with a beautiful view of the Ezulwini Valley

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Funky grasshopper at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

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Danger is lurking in the dark… (or underneath the fern)

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Two dung beetles rolling with it.

Day 8 – Mlilwane to Malolotja National Park (Swaziland)

The sound of rain against our window wakes us in the morning. We deserve a lay-in, and make ourselves some coffee and tea in our cabin, while relaxing in bed. After the rain stops, we pack up and take a little drive through the park. At the hippo pool we meet some old friends again – both the crocs and the ranger. He tells us that they call the crocs “flat dogs” haha They seem less scary that way. We drive on and see some warthogs with young ones and more antelopes. Leaving the park behind us, we drive on for a few kilometres to Mantenga craft village, where we have a look around and stock up on souvenirs for our loved ones at home. Next to the massive American embassy, there is a shopping mall (obviously), and we pop in to lunch at what must be the whitest place in Swaziland. We have some nice food at the Mugg and Bean there, which also has one or two vegan dishes on offer, apart from things like mac’n’cheese and quesadillas. We are entertained with VH1’s Best of the Naughties, so I am a happy camper.

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Blesbok sending us off from Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

Filled up, we drive on for another hour towards the green mountains of Malolotja National Park, where we will be staying the next two nights. It is a mountainous park with no big animals around, but stunning landscape to hike in. Again, there are hardly any other tourists, and we move into our spacious log cabin with a fireplace. After a snoop around the cabin, we drive for a few minutes further into the park, to then go for a little hike. The map material we have asked for at check-in is minuscule, and there is no signage, so make sure you have a good sense of direction before you head off walking. We walk through beautiful meadows and admire the lush green mountains. At some point we lose the trail, but end up on a dirt track that we walk back until we hit the trail again. We find our car back at the picnic spot we left it at and drive back to our cabin, where we cook and relax by a crackling fire.

 

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Cabin at Malolotja National Park

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Beautiful hike in Malolotja National Park

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Day 9 – Malolotja (Swaziland)

After breakfast we head into the capital of Swaziland, Mbabane, to get the visa for the bf. It is only a short 30 minute drive, and after less than an hour in the Department of Home Affairs we have the visa and would like to explore the capital. We ask a few of the very friendly Swazis what there is to see in Mbabane, but they tell us that for tourists, really, there is nothing to see, no historic buildings, nothing. The Lonely Planet and Rough Guide give us the same answer, so we pop into a shopping mall next to the government agencies. We find a post office from which we buy and send some old fashioned postcards home. We then have some lunch in a little cafe next to the post office that even advertises a vegan wrap! Unfortunately it contains feta cheese… So out with the feta, and a nice lunch is ensured. While eating, we study the local newspaper and giggle about their headlines such as: “Jesus is not coming back!” and “Pig is suckling on a cow – abnormal!” We then pop into the supermarket to stock up on food and I discover a super tasty slightly fermented maize drink called mahewu or emahewu (some are made with cows milk, others are not, so read the ingredients list), which is my preferred breakfast for the next days. We head back to our mountain cabin and then go on another little hike in the afternoon. Of course we get lost again, but find our way back. We apparently visited Swazilands highest waterfall, but, maybe due to the draught, it is not very impressive. Nevertheless, we enjoy being in nature and walking in beautiful surroundings. We just arrive back to the cabin when thick fog moves in that covers the mountains for the rest of the night. So we cook again and light another fire in the fireplace while enjoying a glass of wine.

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Awesome choice of soya mince in Swazi supermarket – love the Imana Chakalaka flavour!

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Swaziland’s highest waterfall (apparently); due to draught not very impressive though.

Day 10 – Malolotja (Swaziland) to Kruger National Park Lower Sabie camp

We pack up after breakfast and head towards the South African border. We pass through many fir and gum tree plantations, later many orange and banana plantations. We cross the boarder into South Africa again by Jeppes Reef, and say goodbye and thank you to the friendly nation of Swaziland. Siya Bonga! We are headed for the world famous Kruger National Park, and are staying in the South of the park tonight. We stop in the town of Komatipoort close to the Mozambican boarder at a big supermarket to stock up on food, have some lunch from their hot counter, and fill the car with petrol before crossing the Crocodile Bridge into Kruger National Park. Again, thanks to our WildCard, the entry is already included. Only a few minutes after driving into the park, we are greeted by a big elephant herd drinking at a river. We are fascinated by the about 20 animals of all ages, our first real encounter with elephants, so we watch them for quite a while. We then drive on towards the Lower Sabie camp, our accommodation for the night, and see even more elephants on the way, along with countless impalas, some funky birds, giraffes, and even a crocodile while we drive over the dam at Lower Sabie. The dam/bridge is a great view point, and we also spot a hippo, a waterbuck and more elephants in the high grass of the river. We are elated as this was all over the midday heat, so the afternoon should bring out more animals.

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Looking back over Crocodile Bridge

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We check into our simple cabin for tonight (with shared bathroom and kitchen, but with air-con, fridge and a wash basin in the cabin) and take a little nap. We then decide against a drive as we have driven enough for today, and instead head for the Mugg & Bean restaurant in the camp, which is situated at the banks of the river Sabie, with a massive terrace overlooking the water. We drink a cooling Castle beer or two and enjoy some nachos with it, while watching hippos, buffalos and birds. A beautiful scenery and a super relaxed afternoon. True holiday feeling! Back at the hut, I fire up the barbecue grill in front of the cabin. Of course, since I am doing it alone while the boyfriend is checking his emails in the main building, a South African man promptly comes over and offers his tips on how to do it (South Africans love their bbq, called braai here). Little does he know I grew up in the bbq state of Germany, where we pretty much get born with barbecue tongs in our hands. I manage just fine. We grill some of the Fry’s vegan burgers and some vegetable skewers that we bought in the supermarket, and then head to bed as we have booked a morning drive at 4 am…

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Enjoying a cool beer on the terrace of Lower Sabie camp while watching animals along the river.

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Cape Glossy Starling at Lower Sabie Rest Camp terrace

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Hippos coming out of the water at dusk as seen from the terrace towards the dam/bridge.

Day 11 – Kruger National Park Lower Sabie camp to Satara camp

… or we don’t. We do not hear the alarm going off again, and wake up at 4 am. Even though we quickly throw on our clothes and run to the meeting place, the vehicles have already gone. Bugger! I am annoyed at myself, especially since we paid R520 for the two of us for the morning drive. But better make the best of it, so we pack up some stuff and are at the gate  of the camp at 4:30 when it opens for non-guided drives. We drive to the bridge crossing the Sabie river where we have some coffee that we brought in a flask and watch the sun rise over the water before driving on. We make a big loop along the S128, then the S30 and head back to Lower Sabie via the Skukuza-Lower Sabie road along the river (takes about 3 hours with coffee breaks and animal spotting). Again, we are blessed with many animal sightings: hippos, elephant families, little bunnies, countless impalas, kudus, giraffe families, a meerkat, a leopard tortoise, a blue-gleaming snake that I almost run over on the road (might have been a Mozambican cobra), buffalos, vervet monkeys, a Southern yellow-billed hornbill, helmeted guinea fowls, zebras and we see a male lion walk away from us near the river and two lionesses in the undergrowth on the other bank of the river. Again, we are some lucky bastards and the missed guided morning drive seems less worse. Back in the camp we have a look on the big white boards that announce animal sightings around the camp to see where we might be able to spot more lions and a leopard, as that would make our spotting of the Big Five complete. We pack up our stuff and check out at 10 am. So early still, but we have seen so much already! It is quite hot again, so we decide to cool down in the pool of the camp before driving up North to Satara camp. We are the only ones at the pool and enjoy a refreshing bath and our lunch there.

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Sunset seen from the Lower Sabie-Tschokwane road (dam/bridge).

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Giraffes crossing the S128

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A family of elephants crossing the Skukuza-Lower Sabie road

Then we hit the paved road up to Satara. Again, even though it is very hot outside, we manage to see many animals such as elephants, impalas, nyalas, klipspringer (the tiniest antelopes – so cute!), giraffes, wildebeests, buffalos, some ostriches and finally a leopard hanging out in a tree. We watch it for about an hour, while it mainly sleeps, then watches some unsuspecting impalas grazing under his tree. We are getting ready for a possible hunt by the big cat, when loud barking shoos away the antelopes, and four massive baboons come running towards the leopard. The kitty gets the hell outta there, and the baboons seem pleased with themselves. A primatologist friend tells me later that baboons and leopards hate each other and fight over territories. At Satara, we move into our awesome hut by the fence that I especially booked for the next two nights. Having the terrace facing the fence gives you animal spotting opportunities already at breakfast and for dinner. The cabins are well equipped with an outdoor kitchen on the terrace (including monkey-prove locks) and an en-suit in the cabin. We fire up the bbq while some wildebeests graze in front of the fence. One moment I am not watching the grill, a cheeky vervet monkey steals a cob of corn off the bbq. I hope it didn’t burn its little fingers! Darkness sets in quickly and a beautiful starry sky is exposed above us. Our South African neighbours have brought a powerful flashlight and look for animals along the fence, but only two warthogs are visible. We head to bed to go looking for more lions tomorrow.

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Buffalos hanging out under a tree in the midday heat.

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Ostrich mum with her two young near Tshokwane Picnic Site

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Leopard eyeing the cars eyeing him.

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Cabin by the fence in Satara Rest Camp

Day 12 – Kruger National Park Satara camp

At 6 my boyfriend wakes me excitedly: a honey badger is rummaging through the bins of the camp. We are super happy! Ever since watching that honey badger video, we have been slightly obsessed with those badasses. I especially chose to stay at Satara camp because I had read that they have frequent sightings of them there. For breakfast we have to chase away some vervet monkeys again, and we can see them checking the neighbours kitchen too. So don’t let anything stand around unwatched on the terrace. We get into our our car and drive a loop along the S100 West, and then head South to the Satara-N’wanetsi Road that we take back to the camp. Today it is already really hot very early, at 9 am the thermometer shows 30°C. Nevertheless, we see a massive herd of elephants cross the road, many zebras, nyalas, elands and impalas, some giraffes, warthogs, wildebeests, buffalos and an endangered ground red hornbill having his breakfast. Back at the camp, some elephants are grazing in front of our terrace. Pretty cool! Since it is so hot, we do it like the animals an take a nap.

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Warthog mum with two of her three piglets.

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Red Ground Hornbill eating a beetle.

We then book another guided morning drive for the next day and have a look at the white board to see where we can properly see some more lions. By now we have a theme song to our non-violent lion hunt: Lion-el Richie’s “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” Yes, we are! We head North along the Olifants-Satara road, but no luck again, no big cats are showing themselves. Nevertheless, we spot some animals we have not seen before such as two black-backed jackals, an eagle and, right before we get back to Satara camp when the gate closes at 6:30 pm, a young hyena is chilling by the roadside. There are also many leopard tortoises around. It looks like a thunderstorm is moving in, which would bring some much needed rain to the area. In our cabin, we make ourselves a massive salad and watch the little rain that falls. While enjoying a glass of wine on the terrace, our friend the honey badger comes for a visit and is surprised to see us there sitting in the dark. He turns around and buggers off, and a few moments later we hear a bin falling over at a neighbouring cabin. Looks like he found some food after all. We head to bed to be ready for our last morning drive tomorrow.

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Public sighting board at Satara Rest Camp where everybody can record their sightings for other tourists and guides to see.

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Young spotted hyena chilling by the road side.

Day 13 – Kruger National Park Satara camp to Graskop

An early rise at 3:20 am to catch our guided drive at 4 am. We see on the terrace that the honey badger came back later tonight, as his footprints lead to our bin, which has also been knocked over. It is quite chilly this morning and overcast, so on go the layers of clothes. Our safari vehicle is well-filled this time, with a South African and with a French family. Our last chance to see lions, but unfortunately, again they are not showing up. We are a little disappointed, however, we get to see some adult spotted hyenas, zebras, some elephant families up close, different antelopes and three red ground hornbills. After the morning drive, we have left-overs for breakfast and then buy some souvenirs in the shop at camp. We pack up and head East to leave the park. On the drive towards the Orpen gate we spot two more jackals that are nibbling on a carcass. Again, Lionel Richie has let us down, so we only got fleeting sightings of lions on our trip. Anther time then.

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Spotted hyena on the hunt with fellow hyenas.

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Impala drinking from a puddle – one of my favourite pictures from the trip.

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Two black-backed jackals find a carcasse and jump for joy.

We drive through the countryside and arrive to Graskop after about 4 hours. We are welcomed with thick fog and visibility of under 10 metres, and can therefore not enjoy the famed views in the area. We move into the beautiful cabin at Thaba Tsweni Lodge right outside of the town, our last accommodation of the trip. The holiday flat is spacious and also has a fireplace that we are using later that night. For now, we make ourselves some pasta for lunch and then take a good, long nap. After all, we got up very early this morning. In the afternoon, it looks like the fog has cleared up a little, so we head to one of the nearby view points, but still, no view. So we head into Graskop for some coffee (and internet – to check our flights in two days) and food shopping at the local SPAR. We spend the evening chilling out and reading in front of the fireplace.

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Day 14 – Graskop and Blyde Canyon

We have a very relaxed start into the morning as it is foggy still and raining. We watch a film on telly and have a long breakfast. We then head into town to send some postcards and fuel up the car. Maria, the friendly owner of Thaba Tsweni Lodge, told us that often only Graskop is foggy, but in the nearby Blyde Canyon the air is clear. We take our chances as this is what we are here to see and drive to the canyon. Beware and behold, after a few kilometres the fog clears and we are rewarded with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. First stop are the Burke’s Luck Potholes (entry: R20 per person plus R30 per car) where we walk around the walkways and have a little picnic by the river, bringing tea with us in a flask. We then drive further along to the Lowvelt viewpoint (free parking and entry) that rewards us with a breathtaking view of the mountains and the river. Finally, we drive another few minutes to the viewpoint of the Three Rondavels (entry: R10 per person). We enjoy the view and walk around a little, and chat to some South African tourists. Then a massive bus of Chinese tourists arrives and we decide to head off as it is not a massive area to take in too many tourists. We drive back to our cabin, pack our bags for the last time, cook a meal for the last time, using up as much food as we can, and light the fireplace one last time. We watch a film and then snooze off.

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Burke’s Luck Potholes

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Lowvelt Viewpoint of Blyde Canyon

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The Three Rondavels

Day 15 – Graskop to Johannesburg to home

The very last day starts like more of the others: with a very early morning. We are awake at 5 am already, so we pack up, have breakfast, and are on the road again. We first drive towards Nelspruit through beautiful landscape that reminds me of my beloved Salento in Colombia. We then drive for about 2 hours through rather bleak country towards Johannesburg. After less than 5 hours (including various coffee breaks and fueling up the car), we are already at the airport, and drop off our trusty car. After dropping off our luggage at an understaffed check-in desk, we kill the three hours until take-off with eating (what else?!) and snooping around the airport shops. We also reflect on our trip and decide to come back another time to visit the Cape region. Our first real safari experience has been a success, and South Africa is a country that makes self-guided travelling very easy thanks to its infrastructure and its friendly people. Until next time!

Summary:

An easy travel destination for self-organised travel, and a smooth introduction into Africa. Very friendly and helpful people, good infrastructure, and great wildlife spotting opportunities. The Eastern part, where we travelled, is also more affordable than the area around Cape Town (excluding the flights, we spend around 1000 Euros each for the whole trip including accommodation, rental car, petrol, entry fees, food etc.). Also no problem for vegan travellers as there are always options, especially it you are in self-catering facilities, as the supermarkets usually have different proteins on offer (soya mince, the beloved Fry’s, or canned legumes).

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This entry was published on 11. January 2017 at 22:12. It’s filed under Allgemein, South Africa, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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