Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Kruger Park - Part Two

We enjoyed our first visit so much that after Andi went home we decided to return for five more days.  This time we rented chalets at each camp.  We drove a full day to reach the southern border where we stayed outside of the camp for the night.  We chose a lovely B&B with the most charming hostess.  After breakfast, we headed into the park and stayed one night at Skukuza Camp, two nights at Olifants Camp, and one night at Sweingdezi.  It was great touring all of the parkland, even with the often torrential rains that came and went.  For five days we covered just about every dirt track there was on the map, dodged mudholes and fallen trees and spotted quite a bit of wildlife.  The lion and leopard evaded us this trip and we never got to see that rhino.

Pretoria - Johannesburg

Driving west and out of the park, we retraced our steps back onto the Panorama Route and then into Pretoria were we had booked a private home in the Menlyn Park area.  Menlyn Park is an upscale neighborhood on the southwest side of the city.  Our home was a huge 3,000 sq. ft four-bedroom hacienda with pool, lovely gardens, and great security.  For the next few days we enjoyed the privacy.  We toured Pretoria for a day, took in the sites of the capital city - the Voortrekker Monument, the State House, and the Mandela statue in the park.  For a large city and capital of the country, interestingly it had little to see and do that interested us other than many parks, a few wildlife reserves nearby, and an assortment of small art galleries and novelty museums.

We booked a day tour of the Cullinan Diamond Mine and that was quite a day.  We drove about an hour east of town and into the hills to get to the mine.  For the tour we had to don coveralls, a safety belt, light, and hard hat.  We went down about 1200 feet into one of the shafts and then wandered the maze with our guide watching the various aspects of diamond mining.  In the US we would never have been allowed to this.  It was a great tour and sadly, no diamond samples and no pictures.

Our last day together we visited Johannesburg and took the Hop On Hop Off bus tour.  We toured the city and its sites...big buildings, museums, had lunch at a large casino and then toured Soweto.  The Soweto tour was interesting...but in 25 years, the town has changed too much, there was little to truly see form the past.  The guide did a great job of pointing to a building or a hill and saying, "at one  time there used to..."

Hans and Marie departed on the 27th.  Andi stayed on for another week.  During the time we pretty much stayed around the house relaxing.  On our last night together she treated us to dinner at a quaint country restruarant out in the bonnies.  It was call the Tin Roof Cafe and the meal was lovely.

Kruger National Park - Part One

We planned our drive to complete the first half of the Panorama Route, then enter the park south of there, and complete the route on our exit to Pretoria.  It was a beautiful drive up into the highlands and valleys that make up the western border of Kruger National Park.  The cliffs make a natural boundary for animal migrationa...and the western side of the park is fully fenced and gated.  We stopped at God's Window to view the valley below, before descending onto the park's plateau.

We booked a safari camp with upgraded tents, fully catered meals, and two or three game drives, walks, or activities each day.  We dug in for a nice long rest. Our tents faced the park fence and in the late day and early evening we had a full time continues procession of wildlife to walk wander by.  Foe the next seven days we had three daily choices of game drivers and activities.  It was a grand stay.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Eastern Highlands

It took us over six hours to get up to Barberton, the center of the gold-mining industry for almost 200 years.  The Gold Rush started here and today the town is still deep in the employment of still producing mines.  There are diamonds too, but we'll save that for our next post.

We lucked out and rented an Airbnb house that was an authentic 1850 farmhouse.  It still occupied a nice area of garden.  The rooms were huge, it has a disconnected, yet updated kitchen and there was this unique charm of an African summer house, complete with large verandas and a plunge pool...and all for $125 a night for the five.

Our first full day was visiting Jame Goodall's Chimp Eden.  The gang were in full form and we enjoyed a great guided tour of the facility and viewing of the chimps in their natural refuges.

For our second full day we chartered a day tour, let someone else do the driving, and we entered Swaziland for the day.  Our fellow was quite pleasant and we had a great day visiting a tribal compound and a few gift shops.  We had lunch at a rather nice upscale lodge.  The choir was in full voice and wonderful.

Ironically, with eight major gold mines in operation nearby, there was not a single tour available or even offered.  So. we spent a lazy day enjoying our South Africa piece of history and departed early the next morning for Kruger National Park.

Exploring Zululand and the Wetlands

We entered the Kwa-Zulu Natal region upon leaving Underberg.  Our first stop was at Pietermaritzburg, a bustling and large city on the plains.  Our stop was at the Kwa-Zulu Natal Museum where we explored the history of the region and learned a bit more about the Zulu Nation, the Boer Wars, and the Anglo Zulu war.  There was a fine exhibit on the life of Nelson Mandela as well.

From there is was a short drive to Durban.  An hour later we were in the high hills of Durban, immersed in a tropical jungle-like environment.  We chose an Airbnb in the quiet neighborhood of Westville, about five miles west of the city center.  Our four-bedroom rental for three nights was large, and everyone got their own room.  An older home, it was in good repair and offered us a nice retreat for the next few days.

Our first full day in Durban was spent visiting the Victoria Market, a tourist market with loads of shops.  Durban has one of the largest Indian populations outside of India and that was evident on the streets.  It was a Saturday and the streets were teeming with crowds.  The Sprinkbok Rugby Champs were in town zig-zagging the city center on route to a fan rally at the stadium.  I was pretty chaotic for a few hours.  We each found a few things worth bartering over and walked away with a stunning Zulu inspired mask.

We wandered over to the other city market and had lunch at the famous Oriental Restuarant.  This Durban landmark is Indian owned...as are most restaurants in town.  The food was delicious and the staff was very nice.

 For our second day in Durban we drove over to the Shaka Marine Park.  It is a "Sea World" type attraction with whale shows, etc.  We did not visit the park, put used their secure parking lot and access to the beach.  From there we walked South Beach all the way up to the Suncoast Casino.  It was a three mile walk and near the poos there were thousands of locals on the beach and boardwalk.  It started out as a sunny day on the rain began as we entered the casino...so good timing.

The casino is in a large shopping mall and the sole purpose of our visit was to find someplace that served "Bunny Chow."  This was Hans' adventure and he was determined.  Our Airbnb neighbor had advised him that this was the best place to get it and that "every" restaurant served it.  After stopping at EVERY restaurant in the mall, there was none to be had.  Finally, we were directed to the hotel itself and the lobby cafe...ah success.  A half-loaf of white bread, scooped out the make a bowl - the "bunny"- and chicken curry...the "chow."  It was tasty and filling and Hans' mission was accomplished.
We departed Durban early for a visit to Shakaland.  This is a recreated village that was a movie set for a long running TV series in the 80's.  It was authentic enough and the closest thing so far we had found to some traditinal Zulu experience.  We spent a couple of hours that included a really nice African style buffet lunch.

The highlight of the visit was the drumming, singing, and dancing.

Later that day we made our way to the coast once again and the Village of St. Lucia.  We were in the heartland of the wetlands area and found our three-bedroom condo fully equipped and comfortable...complete with hippos and crocs in the gardens.

We settled in for our four nights.  We were up at 4AM the next day for a full day safari in Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park.  It was an hour drive to the park, a nice light breakfast was served at one of the secure picnic spots and then lots of game viewing, a huge braai lunch with steak and sausage, and then more game viewing.  The highlight was the rhino.

The next day we had another full safari, this time of the wetlands.  We took a break in the afternoon and then headed out that same night for a very late, night safari.  Wow, it was a long day with lots to see...even in the dark.   In between the day and night rides we had room to make a fried chicken dinner, Texas style.

 The highlight of the day tour was happening up this monitor lizard.  He had mounted a dung beetle mound and was devouring them.  They were actually walking right into his mouth.  Our guide was so impressed, he took out his camera.  We were there for almost 30 minutes.

The following day we booked "an authentic" Zulu village experience about ten minutes away.  It was only $15 per person and was something to do.  We were no disappointed.  It was infinitely more authentic and personal than the Skaland staged event.