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 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 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.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Sani Pass - Our Scary Ride to the Top...and Back Down

To get into Lesotho from the south you must traverse the Sani Pass, a dirt road from the flatlands below to 11,000 feet.  At the top is the Highest Pub in Africa, a lodge, and a small native village.  We booked a full day 4X4 adventure to ride ot the top, spend a bit of time, and come back down.  It was quite a ride.

Hans and Marie Join Us - Exploring the Karoo

We departed Knysna midmorning and enjoyed a pretty drive along the coast and through the pine forests reaching Port Elizabeth at noon.  Hans and Marie were waiting for us in the parking lot of their hotel and it was a fun meetup.  We headed directly to our house where we checked in and had lunch.  Our place was a really lovely three-bedroom home with a private pool.  A perfect first day welcome to the Airbnb experience for Hans and Marie.

We drove around Port Elizabeth a bit...not a whole lot to see, but we did visit the memorial overlook to Nelson Mandela and saw the wonderful mosaic.

The following morning we booked a full day tour of Addo Elephant Park that started with a great breakfast at Dungbeetle Lodge.  The lodge sits on a river and was quite lovely.  The staff were charming and the food was delicious.

 The national park is the thrid largest in the nation and hosted over 700 elephants along with an assortment of other critters.

 We were able to get out an walk to one of the waterholes.
 We enjoyed a really nice safari truck with comfy seats.
 Giant leopard tortoise.

The next day we drove two hours east to Misty Mountain Lodge were we would take on a quad bike tour.  The lodge was lovely and we had a great lunch.

The quadbike tour ended up being a mess with poorly maintained machines that didn't start, stay running, and two had wheels attached with a single lug nut.  But we made the most of the it and enjoyed the short run out to the coast, the walk to the cliff's edge, and back.

We packed up and headed north into the high country and the town of Craddock.  Finally, something resembling Africa with a huge native population.  We arrived at our farmstay where we would be for the next three nights.  A truly great spot, a huge 100-year-old house on a large dairy farm, complete with a Zorse, pony, pigs, geese, lots of dogs, a guinea pig, rabbit, mongoose, and loads of birds.  We set up house and relaxed away the afternoon.

We drove to Mountain Zebra National Park and spent the whole day doing a self-guided game drive with a picnic in the park.  it was a great day and we saw lots of those special zebras...and a rhino.

On the following day, we drove two hours west to Graaf Reinet, a Boer War stronghold, and visited the museum and the national park to view the spectacular rock formations.  The museum is housed in the first governor mansion.  Beautify 19th century SA dutch architecture.
 The streets are lined with many homes of that period, now museums and businesses.

 Once in the park, we stopped at a lookout for our picnic lunch.
 Then we drove to the lookouts over the city.

 The Valley of Desolation is a huge canyon of dolomite columns and canyons.

 We spotted serval tortoises crossing the roads.

Later that afternoon we departed the park and headed north through a lovely gorge and valley to the town of Nieu-Betheda to view the eccentric home of Helen Martin, a woman who spent most of our very modest life adorning her home and gardens with art made from glass and cement.  It was both a bit creepy and beautfiul at the same time.

The next morning we readied ourselves for a long drive further north into the HIGH Karoo with the town of Ficksburg as our destination.  Here on the northern border of Lesotho, we rested on another farmstay for three days and nights.  What a lovely spot with really nice hosts.  Our cottage was 100+ years old and the farm had been in the same family.  Run by the great-grandson of the original landowner, it was a huge cattle ranch with a main house and the cottage.  To the rear of the property was the worker's homes...masonry small homes with electricity supplied by the landowners.  There was plenty of activity on the farm as we watched the cattle being fed, the gardeners keeping the grounds beautiful, and the ladies busy with laundry and clenaing.  Wnat a lovely place to stay.

We took a long walk around the farm.  There was a family cemetery dating back to the late 1800s.

 The worker cottages behind the barns.
 Vast lands to the distant mountains.
Beautiful Arabian.

 An old auction barn.

 Lots of curious cows...actually young bulls.

We reserved one day to visit the country of Lesotho, No., 72 on our world journey.  It borders Ficksburg.  An hour's drive from the farm got us to the border and shortly thereafter to Maseru, the capital city.  Lesotho is a very poor country, independent of South Africa and relying mostly on tourism.  it is surrounded by mountains and offers spectacular, yet remote and difficult to reach trekking destinations.  We spent a few hours in the capital city, did a bit of shopping and had lunch.  Then it was back across the border and to the farm for one last night.

We departed midday, as usual, and drove a few hours to Golden Gate Highland National Park.  The highway winds through the middle of the park and the views were spectacular.  We stopped for photos often.

At Harrisburg, we turned south and down along a huge reservoir for an hour, stopped at a viewpoint and had lunch.  There we met four local artists selling the cutest figurines and each of us bought a few of them.  Another hour further south got us to Dragon Peak where we rented a cottage for the night.  The views were amazing and we enjoyed dinner on the deck overlooking the green valley below and the mountains behind.  We were once again on the border of Lesotho.

Departing at our usual hour, we visited the local Bird of Prey attraction and took in the show.  The birds were awesome.