Site hosted by Build your free website today!

South Africa - Part 1: February - May 2004

South Africa: February - May 2004 [ Picture: Table Mountain from Waterfront, Cape Town Harbour.] 14th February: Following a 13hr 20min non-stop flight from Sydney, we duly arrived in Johannesburg. Our flight-path from Australia had followed a big southerly loop – right down to 61 degrees South – only 1,800km from the South Pole. Although we did not see the edge of the Antarctic continent (due to cloud and probably too far away anyway?) we did spot numerous ice floes and some really big tabular icebergs from our cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. So, we could not have been that far from Antarctica proper. We spent 3 days in Jo’burg (1 day longer than envisaged as our Nairobi flight was shifted from 16th to 17th Feb. with no explanation given!) We stayed with our good friend (from old SA days when we still live there) Annemieke and met various other old pals as well as my brother who was up from Durban on business as it happened. Jo’burg city center appears to be on the up again, although parts are still very much no-go areas for whites and big businesses – these have all moved out to the suburbs with purpose built high-security housing condominiums, very plush shopping centers and business parks. When you visit someone at one of these “gated” communities, you have to go through an elaborate military-style security barrier, give your details to a guard, who informs the people you are visiting to say you are on your way. And the whole complex is surrounded by a high, secure fence with electrified strands on top! What a way to live!?! Even shopping centers with underground car parks are not immune to this security. There are steel “tank traps” – i.e. spiked strips in place to stop stolen vehicles getting out – and you are asked to switch off the car’s ignition and switch it on again to prove the vehicle has not been “hot-wired.” We also got treated to one of Jo’burg’s famous afternoon thunderstorms – torrential rain accompanied by tremendous forked lightning and cracking, rolling thunder! Quite a performance. We left Jo’burg on 17th for our (now curtailed by 1 day) 9-day foray up to Kenya, before returning to South Africa. 26th February: back in South Africa after a very exciting visit to Kenya. Now in Paarl with family undergoing some much needed R&R, before the Southern African adventure starts, once logistics like 4x4 vehicle and associated gear, accommodation, etc. have been sorted out. We arrived back in South Africa from our “wee adventure” in Kenya on 26th February, from Nairobi via Jo’burg and then down to Cape Town (the famous Table Mountain had a tablecloth on!). My sister Monika and brother-in-law Pierre met us and ferried us to the sanctuary of their house in Groot Drakenstein, just outside Paarl. Also met up with my mom there who lives with them – it was great to be back “home” again, as both Sue and I now regard the Cape as our 2nd home, after Scotland, of course! Paarl: The first European Abraham GAbemma saw mountains in October 1657, it had rained and the granite domes sparkled in the sunlight and he named the mountains paarl [pearl]and diamandt [diamond]. First settlers in Paarlvallei came in 1687 followed by the French Huguenots who settled on farms in the area. The town grew in random fashion along a very important wagon route to Cape Town. Paarl is also home to fabulous wine estates as are the nearby towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Wellington. The appeal of the Western Cape winelands is a chance to sample several hundred different wines as well as being scenically very beautiful. The winelands are green with a favourable climate in stark contrast to the land over the mountains, where everything appears brown and dry - but that isn't the case all the time! Home here being inside the relative safety of a prison compound, as Pierre is a prison warder at Drakenstein Correctional Services – formerly known as Victor Verster Prison – the very same prison from which Nelson Mandela was released in 1990. He was transferred there from Robben Island when it became apparent that he would be released. Even today still, tour buses stop outside the prison gates for tourists to gawp at the site where Nelson famously strode to freedom (as seen by millions on TV around the world) after a total of 27 years incarceration, to become South Africa’s 1st democratically elected President in 1994. Now, a decade later,[after 1999 elections], elections are due on 14th April. Everywhere there are a myriad of placards and posters all enticing the electorate with various promises, pledges and half-truths (LESS POVERTY & LESS CRIME; MORE WORK & LESS CRIME; MORE POLICE ON THE STREETS; IMPRISON CORRUPT POLITICIANS are but a few that spring to mind) to vote for a particular party. There are 35 (or 37 depending on who you talk to) political parties, but only 4 major ones; African National Congress, Democratic Alliance, New National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party. We stayed with the “rellies” until 15th March, chilling out and relaxing, not doing a lot some days – just “catching the rays” – as it is now late summer but with temps still hovering between 26 & 34 Celsius! However, in between bouts of inertia (justified after our last 6-month marathon of dashing about from continent to continent, country to country and experience to experience), we did manage various excursions starting with sampling the local fare at various restaurants in nearby Franschhoek, nestling beneath the craggy mountains and surrounded by extensive vineyards (all now very busy harvesting grapes); vineyard tours at Delheim and Muratie wineries. We also embarked on a few “tame’ game-spotting visits: Butterfly World near Stellenbosch – the largest tropical butterfly park in Africa with hundreds of them flitting about in a huge, beautiful covered garden complex; to Monkey Land near Somerset West – a very imaginatively laid-out reserve full of all sorts of er…well… monkeys! Also to World of Birds near Hout Bay which boasts over 4,000 birds and is the largest bird park in Africa – this was all so much different to the Mara!!! On our way home from the latter, we drove over the famous Chapman’s Peak Drive – the road hugging the craggy mountainside above and the cold Atlantic Ocean crashing far below – not the place to get it wrong negotiating one of the many tight corners! This road was only reopened earlier this year – it was closed following a rockfall which killed a motorist in 2000. Now large protective metal netting is in place to prevent this happening again, along with tunnels and ramparts and a total resurfacing of the road - this is why you now pay a R20 toll (still only less than 2 quid). One major change of plan has become apparent now: our initial idea of buying a 2nd-hand 4WD vehicle and kitting it out with extras for long-distance travel was going to be prohibitively expensive – and there would be the problem of reselling it afterwards. So that idea has been shelved and we will be hiring suitable vehicles as and when we need them instead.. Our cultural highlight was a visit to the small 156-year old village of Darling up the west coast (about 90mins by car from Paarl) to catch a show of Tannie (Aunty) Evita Bezuidenhout aka Pieter-Dirk Uys – a controversial and brilliant South African political satirist. Imagine Barry Humphreys’ Dame Edna, BUT far more cutting, acerbic, rude and political and you get the idea. The former Darling Railway Station building (now called Evita se Perron – perron is Afrikaans for platform but sounds suitably like that Argentinian missus to become Evita’s Per[r]on which is the venue for his/her show – comprising a cabaret revue, bar, restaurant and arts and crafts shop: in total “a stress-free zone where humour and enjoyment are the primary aims.” After a traditional South African lunch, the show entitled “Tannie Evita praat Kaktus” (Aunty Evita talks Cactus – a play on the Afrikaans word “kak” which translates as shit!) started. It was a “dekaffirnated”take on racism, history and life in South Africa – Evita’s legendary and hilarious state-of-the-nation address presenting South African History as it could only have been imagined and yet based on fact. It was an absolute hoot and we laughed until tears streamed down our faces. Yes, there was a Scottish quip as well: “Boerewors is haggis with a sense of humour!” We also went on an open-top bus tour of Cape Town which is well worthwhile and a good way to see Cape Town without foot-slogging and driving yourself (as parking like in most cities is a major headache.) We finished this off with a very tasty seafood lunch at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront complex in Cape Town harbour. What better setting then stuffing your face overlooking the bustling harbour with Table Mountain as a magnificent backdrop! This takes some beating – having been to a few harbour cities in our travels so far…. As Sir Frances Drake said “this is the fairest Cape in all the World” – he was spot on – even way back then! Sue’s birthday on 11th March was celebrated in grand style at the lovely laid-back La Masseria restaurant on Ruitersvlei Wine Estate just outside Paarl. Our host, Anthony Kampf, even provided a guitar accompaniment to our rendition of Happy Birthday. On Monday 15th March, we picked up our Avis hire-car and decanted ourselves to my brother’s holiday cottage at Vermont, near Hermanus (famous for whale watching) up the east coast about an hour’s drive from Cape Town. We will be based here for the next 2-3 weeks, before setting off up north again before Easter: heading for Natal, the Kruger National Park, Mozambique, Botswana, Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park, Namibia, Caprivi Strip and Botswana again; before returning to Paarl again in July. We have rented a very comfy garden cottage from then until our departure in late September for the UK. So, watch this page and the other African country pages for all future updates. Vermont, where we were based, is a small village outside of Hermanus and was named after the US state and founded by C J Krige [first speaker of the South African parliament]. It is a popular retreat for painters, sculptors, poets and Afrikaans authors. There is a lot of new building taking place as well as “incomers” [from elsewhere in the Cape] doing up old houses for their new holiday abodes. Sounds familiar? It is happening all over – from the Scottish highlands to the Cape coastal villages! Hermanus is the centre of The Whale Coast, centred around Walker Bay, where from July to December whales seek out the sheltered bays along the coast for breeding – they can be seen really close to the shore from the cliff-top vantage points – even right in the centre of town! These are the Southern Right Whales [Eubalaena Australis] who have migrated up from Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Whale watching: whales perform the following displays: Breaching: when they lift their entire bodies out of the water and crash back into the sea; Blowing: spouting water vapour and air through their blowhole; Grunting: just that – a loud grunting sound; Lobtailing: the whale slaps the water’s surface with its tail causing a loud clap; Sailing: whale lifts its tail clear of the water vertically [not for “sailing” along], possible for feeding on sea-floor or as a temperature control mechanism; Spyhopping: the whale lifts its head and part of its body clear of the water vertically, giving it a 360 degree view of the surrounding seas – to check things out! This coast offer an exhilarating coastal drive where the mountains plunge straight into the ocean foaming beneath, forming a coastline of steep cliffs, sandy coves, dangerous headlands and natural harbours. More than 120 ships have foundered along this stretch of coast – it is very popular with divers exploring these wrecks. The mountains are home to “fynbos” – the generic name for the extensive, fine-leafed shrubbery [protea, Erica, gladioli iridaceae] which is the major vegetation type of the Western Cape. The smallest of the world’s 6 floral kingdoms, fynbos has the highest number of species per area – 8.500 in total. We also explored some of the smaller villages near Hermanus. Stanford: a peaceful Victorian village, just inland from the furious Atlantic, is a very popular centre with artists and crafts folk. The village was laid out in 1856 on a farm bought by Captain Robert Stanford [who had resigned from the British Army] to farm here. He was forced to sell up however, after being spurned by everybody [nobody would do business with him] after it materialised that he had provided supplies for a ship carrying convicts from Britain to settle in the Cape Colony. Ironically, he was knighted after this on his return to England! A further day trip along a superb gravel road [eat your heart out Kenya!] to the tiny historic Moravian mission village of Elim [pop. 2,500], founded in 1824 by German missionaries. Even today, to live here, you must still be a member of the local church and your livelihood must come from the earth. The whole village is a National Monument and we had an excellent guided tour by one of the locals: original mission church dating from 1834 with plain, white-painted wooden interior and thatched roof with two clocks [circa 1834] still keeping accurate time!; the restored 1833 watermill producing flour for baking and a monument to the liberation of slaves in the Cape Colony. Then it was onwards [on more superb gravel roads!] to Cape Agulhas – the southernmost tip of Africa [NOT Cape Point as many people erroneously believe]. Cape Agulhas is where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. A lighthouse built in 1848 provides good views over the unforgiving ocean which has claimed so many lives and ships over the years. After a fish and chips lunch it was onwards: this time over the mountains [over the berg] into the Overberg interior – an area of rural landscapes – vast sheep herds and extensive rolling golden wheat fields. As it is now autumn a lot of stubble burning was taking place in the wheat fields – it looked like heather burning in Scotland. We visited Bredasdorp – South Africa’s first “dorp” [wee town], founded in 1837 by Michiel von Breda who played an important part in the development of Merino sheep farming in all South Africa and also became Cape Town’s first mayor in 1840. We depart Vermont on 2nd April for a few more days in Paarl with relatives before heading north to Natal for Easter – so keep tabs on our web pages! [On 24th March we have been “on the road” for exactly 6 months since leaving Scotland last September – only another 6 months to go!!!] Thursday 8th April: sunrise at 0630 also saw us leave Paarl for our drive north to Natal – bearing in mind that it is the long Easter weekend coming up, we expected quite heavy traffic on the major roads, but it turned out not too bad. Heading north on the N1, we drove through the 4 km long Du Toit’s Kloof tunnel – the way to get “over” the mountains separating the southern Cape from the interior. After breakfast and a refuelling stop at Laingsburg we were soon in the middle of the Great Karoo. The landscape here appears desolate and barren, but a vast supply of underground water is brought to the surface by isolated windmills dotting the plains. Karoo bush is the common vegetation forming the staple diet of Merino sheep – the chief farming activity here. The N1 seems to run forever in an absolutely straight line across this arid landscape and after covering 700 kms we stopped for a late lunch and refuelling at Colesberg. This town is close to the Anglo Boer War front and several battles were fought close by, but today Colesberg is a centre for breeding horses and sheep farming. Onwards now in an easterly direction through the southern Free State, skirting the Lesotho border for all the time, via little towns of Bethulie, Smithfield, Wepener and Hobhouse to our destination for the first day - Ladybrand. We stayed at Arbutus Lodge – a lovely converted stable attached to a traditionally built sandstone house with wide “stoeps” or verandas running around the building. Ladybrand is a quaint wee town very near the Lesotho border. The following day we stopped for lunch at Clarens. It is named after the Swiss resort on Lake Geneva where President Kruger died in 1904. Now, however, Clarens is full of art galleries, craft shops, coffee shops and restaurants. And today, Good Friday, it was bursting at the seams with visitors and tourists; there was even a fair on the village green. Then onwards through the Golden Gate National Park – an area of reddish orange sandstone cliffs and wooded ravines on the edge of the Drakensberg and Maluti mountains. The mighty Drakensberg or “uKhalamba” (Barrier of Spears) forming the spiny border between Lesotho and Kwazulu Natal, were getting closer and more dramatic all the time, with the minor road we were now on, snaking over the foothills before entering the Natal Midlands and arriving at the capital Pietermaritzburg, where we stayed for a week with a Sue’s cousin Gill and her son, Justin. As it was the long Easter weekend followed by the General Election 2 days after that, most of our time was spent taking it very easy, lounging around the pool with endless barbecues or “braais” and sampling a Castle lager or three! We did go in search of white rhino at the Weenen Game Reserve (managed to spot 4 of these rare beasts, as well as giraffe, zebra and kudu.) Weenen (place of weeping) is so called after the massacre of about 500 Boer settlers by the Dingaan’s Zulu impis in 1838. This was later avenged by the boers at the Battle of Blood River on 16th December 1838 when some 3,000 Zulus were killed on the banks of the Ncome River, causing it to run red with blood! Even today, farmers are periodically murdered in this area, so the name of Weenen is still apt. The town itself is a run-down, forlorn looking “dorp” – a sad reflection of what it once was. Back to Pietermaritzburg: its attractive Victorian city centre dates from the late 19thcentury when it was the capital of the Colony of Natal. The red brick buildings are strikingly similar to provincial English architecture. The city was named after two Voortrekker leaders Gert Maritz and Pieter Retief who settled here in 1838 after the Battle of Blood River. There is also a statue to Gandhi commemorating the centenary of his arrival in South Africa, where he practised as a lawyer in this city from 1893 to 1914, preaching the acceptance of non-violence or ahimsa. On a visit to Europe, a journalist asked him what he thought of Western civilization. Gandhi paused and replied “It would be very nice, wouldn’t it?” Wednesday 14th April: a decade of democracy in South Africa and the third democratic elections since Nelson Mandela became president in 1994. Today it is up to his successor Thabo Mbeki to continue the good work. Kwazulu Natal has always had a certain element of electoral violence in the past as the ruling ANC (African National Congress) and opposition IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party led by Buthelesi) have never seen eye to eye and so it goes on. There is even talk (if the IFP take Natal) of the capital moving north to another town called Ulundi – this would be an economic catastrophe for Pietermaritzburg. As it turned out the ANC won an overwhelming majority (70%) and even secured Kwazulu Natal and the Western Cape, albeit with coalitions in these two provinces – formerly IFP and National Party strongholds respectively. We accompanied Gill to her voting station: down a bumpy gravel road to a small black school at Otto’s Bluff – it was hardly overrun by voters, as most of them spent a good part of the day trudging miles through the dust (the women dressed in their best dresses) to cast their votes. Having asked permission first, I was allowed to take a photo of the outside of the polling station and supervising IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) chap sitting on his plastic chair at the door. And on the sporting front: with my brother Rainer (who lives in Durban) we attended a rugby match between the (Durban) Sharks and Waikato Chiefs from New Zealand in the Vodacom Super 12 Rugby Series – various provincial teams from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand playing each other in a 2-month fest of rugby spread over all three countries until a winner finally emerges! Sad to say, the local team, the Sharks, were on the back foot from the start and were always playing “catch-up” which is no way to win a match. And they did not; losing 34:27 after their last-gasp try in the last minute was not awarded, even after the TV-judge had watched endless replays for over 8 minutes! Major boo-ing from the 40,000-plus crowd made our displeasure known at this unpopular decision. Gregor Townsend (former Scotland player) now plays for the Sharks – he is probably grateful he was not in the Scotland team in the recent Six Nations! A wooden spoon indeed. Monday 19th April: we head further north to the north-eastern corners of South Africa and a visit to the Kruger National Park, followed by a cross border foray into neighbouring Botswana, before returning to South Africa to go game watching in the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) and exploring in Namibia. So, watch these spaces in the weeks to come. Monday 19th April and we left Pietermaritzburg behind us, heading up the north coast of Natal, passing extensive sugar cane plantations, then even more immense eucalyptus forests, via Tongaat, Stanger, Gingindlovu (called Gin Gin I luv You by Lord Chelmsford’s 5,500 British troops fighting 10,000 Zulus in the eponymous battle), Richard’s Bay (a huge port with 2 immense aluminium smelters, an oil terminal and other huge industrial complexes), Mtubatuba before arriving at Hluhluwe where we spent a couple of days at the Sand Forest Lodge. Hluhluwe is a small village surrounded by luxury game farms (not where we stayed by the way!) – it’s town centre a hub of African activity with street traders selling everything under the sun. The other guests comprised two Indian businessmen, a group of 7 African educationalists from the Eastern Cape (on a fact-finding mission to Natal). Until they were joined later by 2 white colleagues, we were the only white faces at the dinner table! It was very interesting listening to them discussing the recent election results and the various candidates and what now for South Africa’s future? All highly entertaining. “Bon iZulu Lethu” or “Come see our heaven” in the Kingdom of the Zulu. We were now in darkest Zululand. We also visited the nearby 90,000 ha. Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve and, along with a couple from Dublin, went on a game drive with a local ranger – just the 5 of us – what a pleasure. This Reserve was established in 1895 and is the oldest game park in all of Africa. It is also home to the Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo – the latter the most dangerous and unpredictable of the lot! It is here, in area of lush vegetation, thickly wooded hills with the mighty Umfolozi River flowing through the park, that white rhino were saved from extinction. Unfortunately we did not see any rhino (which was most unusual the ranger told us), but we did see about 40 mighty tuskers – some really close – and most reddish in colour from having had red mud baths. One bull even stood right in front of the game-viewing vehicle and refused to budge, gently flapping his ears (not a good sign) and trying to outstare the ranger. He was probably saying “I live here folks and you don’t”. But then he lifted his feet as if in slow motion, and regally moved away into the bush. Even our ranger was relieved! Also saw giraffe, nyala (rare type of kudu), impala and zebra. The cats here are quite shy so not surprised that we did not see any lion or leopard. Our next stop (for 3 days) was the tiny hamlet of Ubombo, still further north, in Maputaland. This is an area of mangrove swamps, lakes, coral reefs, dune forests, riverine forests, savannah and spectacular coastline - hundreds of kilometres of it stretching all the north to Mozambique. Ubombo was reached by a gravel road of sometimes indifferent quality, finally snaking 530m up the hillside to where Ubombo was perched! Along the way we passed numerous traditional African kraals (villages) comprising mud huts with thatched roofs and their small plots for growing maize, etc; and lots of goats and Ngani cattle with their huge curved horns and piebald hides wandering on the road, across the road or refusing to budge. Not unlike encountering the old Blackface on a single-track Highland road! The people living in these huts have no tap water, instead walking for many miles to wells or pumps, carrying huge plastic containers on their heads. But lots of the huts had a solar panel attached to a high pole! We found later this was not for electricity but for telephones. Ubombo – not even mentioned in our Footprint guidebook – has a police station, the big Bethesda hospital, a general store cum post office, a funeral parlour and a host of roadside stalls and, of course, the Overwin Country Lodge, run by David & Dawn Irons, our base for 3 days. It turns out David is a cousin of the actor Jeremy Irons. From the lodge (alt. 530m) we looked out over the surrounding Wetlands Park and across to nearby Ghost Mountain. (This is the ancestral burial ground of Zulu kings.) Overwin was an idyllic spot to unwind a while. Other guests included a pair of magistrates doing an audit of the local magistrates in the area to ensure justice was being properly dispensed, a pharmacist training his hospital counterpart and a chap who was ripping out the hospital’s outdated x-ray equipment as it was going to be replaced with the latest next month some time! Our hostess Dawn, who is actively involved in a multitude of community projects to relieve the poverty and suffering of the chiefly African local population, showed us around the hospital; the local high school (230 learners or pupils and 8 educators or teachers; bare, functional classrooms with old-fashioned wooden desks and NO electricity. But they are due to get some computers delivered soon!); the local Catholic church where we met Father Jack; also met 80-year old Sister Harriet (originally from Norway, but now in Ubombo via the US and India – a truly remarkable and spry old lady who also sings and plays the guitar); a crèche where teenage mum’s children were looked after while their mums were at school; a sewing centre run by a redoubtable lady called Margaret where the local ladies were taught the skills of sewing and making clothes using a variety of old sewing machines; and finally an Aids orphanage housed in a big rambling old house, where about 20 wee children were looked after. This was all quite humbling and brought home to us how the majority of South Africans really live! The highlight of our stay in Ubombo was a magnificent flight in a wee plane (a 4-seater Maule Rocket (a very sturdy bush plane ideally suited to operate out of short, rough and remote landing strips) with ZUMAT (Zululand Mission Air Transport) – a voluntary flying doctor service to remote hospitals and clinics. Zumat is funded by donations and an extra source of income is to offer tourist flights like the one we did. Our pilot, Dirk Adendorff, was a very enthusiastic, extremely knowledgeable Christian chap, he soon had me at ease, fired up the plane’s single engine and we zoomed down the gravel runway on the hilltop, over the edge of the escarpment and we were away! It was a brilliant flight covering forests, lakes, swamps and the coast as well; and especially thrilling to spot wildlife from the air: hippos wallowing in swampy reed beds, crocodiles basking on sandbars waiting to spring their traps, elephant moving through the bush and herds of zebra and antelope cantering across the savannah. One evening we were joined for dinner by a party of 8 young doctors, dentists, dieticians & physios from the nearby hospital. They were doing a compulsory year’s community service before they were allowed to go into private practice. A sort of payback to the community for training received – not a bad idea. From Maputaland we continued, skirting the borders of close-by Swaziland via Pongola, Piet Retief, Amsterdam and Carolina to our next destination of Nelspruit, chief town of the Lowveld area of northern South Africa. Nelspruit is a thriving city with very wide streets lined with acacia, jacaranda and bougainvillea trees; it is a major centre for fruit, tobacco and beef industries; it also boats a brand-new African-hut style legislative building as well as the usual enormous shopping malls. And it is only 198 kilometres from Maputo, the capital of neighbouring Mozambique. Apparently lots of Mozambicans come to Nelspruit to do their shopping! We stayed at the very comfortable Phumeleni Guest House, situated on the hills above the city and run by Ena & Barnard Bence. Everywhere the vegetation is very lush – the back garden at Phumeleni looks like something out of the tropical section of Glasgow Botanics. With monkeys jumping among the trees as you sit and have a cuppa, it is certainly a bit different to Morningside in old Embra! Based in Nelspruit, we visited the historic gold-mining town of Barberton, only 43 kms from the Swaziland border. Barberton was the site of South Africa’s first large-scale gold rush with the discovery of the Pioneer Reef in 1883 by “French Bob.” By 1886, over 4,000 claims were being worked and Barberton became a wild frontier town of corrugated iron sheds, gambling dens and whisky joints. South Africa’s first stock exchange was opened in 1887. We visited many of the town’s attractive colonial buildings built during those golden days: the Globe Tavern, a corrugated Blockhouse dating from the 1899-1902 Boer War, Lewis & Marks art-deco building, De Kaap Stock Exchange (sadly only the façade remains today), Stopforth House (formerly housing a bakery and confectionery). And not forgetting the very welcome coffee house called BYE APART ATE (geddit?) run by Jonathon and Freddie – full of old South African memorabilia dating back to early 1900’s. Then a visit to the isolated community of Kaapsche Hoop, high up in the mountains at an altitude of 5,296 feet! This is another historic former mining town with lovely corrugated iron buildings, wild horses descendent from horses used during the Boer War, home of the rare blue swallow and a haven for stressed city-escapees. It is also home to an esoteric pub (Green Venus), a very fine Pancake House, great rocky mountain scenery and numerous artists and crafts people. There is also a white railway carriage (now used as guest accommodation) which was used by the Queen Mother during her 1947 tour of South Africa. We had intended to make a cross-border foray (by public bus) to Maputo in Mozambique from Nelspruit. But as we are booked into the Kruger Park at the end of this week, we have not left enough time to get our visas, and tomorrow is a public holiday (Freedom Day and Thabo Mbeki’s inauguration as President again), and the buses only run once a day – it is not practical right now. So we will head further north on 27th April – Freedom Day – and might think about Mozambique again after the Kruger National Park. Phew! So watch this space for more soon!!! Tuesday 27th April – FREEDOM DAY – commemorating the day of the first Democratic Elections in South African 10 years ago – in 1994. As we left Nelspruit there were no signs of any major celebrations although we did notice throngs of people congregating at the sports stadium - for some sort of jamboree no doubt? We drove northwards over the Long Tom Pass (named after the Long Tom cannon used hereabouts during the Boer War); then through extensive grasslands – very much wheat and cattle country. Onwards via Pilgrims Rest, Graskop and through the magnificent Blyde River Canyon – steep cliffs dropping to a tangle of forest far below with jaw-dropping views as far as the Kruger Park itself to the east. We stopped overnight at Hoedspruit, staying in the “over Africana-designed” Zuleika Lodge which was not our scene at all! It was like something out of the African page in Country Life Magazine! We visited the Hoedspruit Research & Breeding Centre for Endangered Species where we came face-to-face with lots of cheetahs and also the “painted wolf” or Cape Hunting Dog. Worthy of a visit for excellent food is the Mad Dogz Café just outside this frontier town. Their food is some of the very best in the region and the service is excellent. I choose and can thoroughly recommend the Moshebo, Morogo & Pap which is a traditional African beef stew, with spinach and peanut-butter relish and maize meal porridge – delicious! Then we slipped into Limpopo Province (formerly Northern Province) – an area of hidden delights and hardly any tourists about at all. This is an area of dry bushveld dotted with game reserves and cattle ranches as well as forestry and extensive fruit plantations: citrus fruit, avocados, mangoes, tea, etc. This area also has the world’s largest reserves of platinum, chrome and vanadium. We stayed in a delightful country B&B – Granny Dot’s Country Spot – at Agatha, high up in the Magoebaskloof Mountains above the town of Tzaneen. It is tucked away in the forests with avocado & citrus trees in the garden, grand views over the surrounding mountains; run by Richard and Joyce Bissett, ably assisted by their neighbour Beany (in their absence). Then there are the 6 dogs: Sally the Labrador, Mojadji the friendly Rottweiler and a quartet of Scotties: Angus, Robyn, Zoe and Bonnie. And oh yes, blazing log fires in the evenings as it was quite chilly at this height: 700m in the thickly forested mountains. Had a nice relaxing time, taking the dogs for long walks and exploring sights in the local area. Tzaneen lies at the centre of a very prosperous agricultural region – citrus fruit, avocados, mangoes, bananas, litchis, coffee and tea. We visited the Sapekoe Tea Plantations, sat on the veranda and had lovely cakes and, of course, a cup of their tea – directly from the huge tea plantations stretching as far as the eye could see over the rolling hills beneath us. We also managed to locate the far-from-obvious John Buchan Memorial – quite well hidden by long grass and virtually invisible from the road. John Buchan (aka Lord Tweedsmuir) wrote The 39 Steps and also Prester John, amongst others. The Tzaneen Museum is also well worth a visit – it houses a private collection of African artefacts crammed into 3 small rooms: an amazing array of pottery, pole carvings, drums, beadwork, carved figures, etc. Saturday 1st May to Friday 7th May was spent in The Kruger National Park, entering by the Phalaborwa Gate. (This gate is only 2kms beyond the town of Phalaborwa which has the distinction of having an enormous open-cast copper mine: 2.5km long, 1.5km wide and 1 km deep!!) We stayed in very comfortable self-catering thatched-roofed rondavels (bungalows) in 2 of the more northerly camps – Olifants and Mopani. The camps all have a shop, restaurant and petrol station in addition to the accommodation units. Olifants Camp is perched on a hillside with the Olifants River (fringed by fever and wild fig trees with flat mopane woodland beyond) running below: from our bungalow we could hear the hippos grunting in the river beneath us. And we spent hours watching and listening to them from an excellent viewpoint next to the camp’s restaurant, snorting, belching, splashing and wallowing from pool to pool or strolling over sandbanks and onto wee islands in the river: there were quite a few cows with calves as well. We did a lot of driving about on the mainly gravel roads (only the main roads leading to the park’s gates are tarred) trying to spot as much of the vast variety of wildlife as possible. Every day dawned with bright blue and cloudless skies with the sun beating down by 0900. We would leave the camp gate at 0600 when it opened, drive until about 1000 or so, return for some R&R and then go out again at about 1500 until 1730 when the camp gate was shut for the night. We also undertook one dawn and 2 night drives with a Park driver/guide in specially adapted game-viewing vehicles. They all had a .303 rifle lying on the trucks dashboard – just in case! A brief listing of wildlife seen includes impala, zebra, African buffalo, hippo, elephant, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, wildebeest (gnu), spotted hyena, lion, caracal, civet, both black-backed and side-striped jackal, Chacma baboon, vervet monkey, crocodile, warthog; and numerous birds - both hooded and white-backed vulture, giant eagle owl, African fish eagle, martial eagle, tawny eagle, Bateleur eagle, Mozambique nightjar, hornbill, red-crested korhaan, kori bustard, sandgrouse, francolin, lilac-breasted roller, saddle-billed stork and some others I seem to have forgotten about already! Highlights were: large numbers of giraffe, buffalo and elephant (the latter’s presence always “signposted” well in advance by their huge turd hillocks in the road) – not forgetting the hundreds of impala! The sighting of a civet (this cat is very rare, we were even luckier spotting one of these than a leopard). Crocodiles basking on sandbanks with their jaws agape, waiting for prey to happen along. And twice we were forced to execute a 3-point turn and retreat in the face of a big, solitary bull elephant which we encountered before us in the middle of the road – as it became aware of our presence the elephant would purposefully advance straight towards the car, ears flapping and trunk swishing about, clearly not impressed by our presence! We would reverse for 200 metres or so, but still the elephant would advance, we would then reverse another 200 metres, but still this had no effect on him. The message was clear: “this is my road and not yours!” Discretion being the better part of valour (or a flattened car not being an alternative) there was no alternative but to turn around and drive back the way we had just come. One of these incidents resulted in a 23km detour to another road to get back to camp, arriving there only 5 minutes before the gates shut! Then there was old Simba himself – seen during a night-drive with Sipho our Parks driver/guide: we came across a huge male lion patrolling his beat. He was padding along the gravel road, with us following him about 20 feet behind; he was totally unperturbed by the vehicles presence or its headlights. (Vehicles and their occupants are not perceived or identified as either a threat or prey; needless to say should you leave your vehicle, the story is entirely different and you will get nailed!) We followed him like this for more than a kilometre! Every now and then the lion would stop, spray a roadside bush to mark his territory, before continuing on his way. Later, as we approached a ford (where a wee river flowed across the road) we noticed a set of very low-slung red orbs reflected in the headlights – the red orbs were the eyes of a crocodile, crossing the road from one section of the river to the other. He slipped into the water with only his head above the surface and his seemingly lifeless reptilian eyes stared up at us! Sipho said its main prey was catfish or barbell. Who were we to argue with this? Then there was the caracal (a large cat with tufty pointed ears) which was just sitting in the middle of the road; and a den of spotted hyena we came across – mum was a bit shy and hid behind a mopane bush close by but one of the pups was not and kept on emerging from the den to look at us looking at him/her. No less memorable were the smaller, perhaps more insignificant to some, sightings, namely: an impressive army of really big Matabele ants crossing the road en route to only they knew where? They looked like a moving, living rope of liquorice across the red gravel of the road. We had to wait until the entire column crossed before we could move on as to drive over them and crush some was not an option. And then there was the big bright-green chameleon painstakingly crossing the road in front of us – one dithering, faltering step at a time. And not forgetting the dung beetle trying, like Sisyphus, to roll his ball of dung up a slight incline; just as he got the ball to the crest it would roll back and he would have to start again. This happened a few times! He did succeed in the end – we watched until he managed to get the dung ball where he wanted it. The dung beetle lays its eggs in the dung ball, which then provides an instant food source for the young beetles when they hatch in it. Talk about being in the shit! Whilst in the park we also crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, marked by a cairn with a plaque on it next to the road. It was a great week in the Kruger Park, albeit a bit disappointing at not having seen any leopard or cheetah as well. Still there is the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Park to come still later on. We left the Kruger via the Phalaborwa Gate on 7th May and headed for Tzaneen for another night at Granny Dot’s, before heading further north to Louis Trichardt (new name is Makhado) where we spent 2 days, staying at the Inn at Louis Trichardt and Cloud’s End country hotels, exploring the area (Cycad Reserve near Modjadji, cycads are unique plant life from the pre-historic age, they look like palms or tree-ferns but are not related to either; also found the huge 6,000 year old Baobab Tree with a pub inside it. So we had a beer. And the tree is still very much alive and growing and sprouting after all these years! Louis Trichardt was named after the eponymous Voortrekker leader who set up camp here in 1836, before trekking into Mozambique the following year, a journey that took 7 months to reach Lourenco Marques (now Maputo). Louis Trichardt or Makhado as it is now known, is the centre of a big agricultural area where tea, coffee, timber (mainly eucalyptus plantations), sub-tropical fruit are the main crops. It lies at the foot of the Soutpansberg mountains – a 130km long chain – with various salt pans at its base – hence the name soutpans = salt pans. We are now only 92 kms south of the border with Zimbabwe and about 150kms from Botswana to the west. We plan to cross the border and head into Botswana on 9/10th May – so check out the Botswana page for further developments. We then return to South Africa again before exploring Namibia, before our final month in South Africa. So, lots more adventures to come!

Evita Bezuidenhout - P.D. Uys
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
La Masseria restaurant, Paarl

ZUMAT Flying Doctors
Hermanus - Western Cape
Paarl - Western Cape
Zululand - Kwa-ulu Natal
Hluhluwe - Kwa-Zulu Natal