Below is a map of our self drive journey through South Africa.
We drove 7,193 km spread over 6 weeks. The journey took us through spectacular countryside. We probably had two brief periods of rain as the country in general has been suffering through a drought for some time. The people were friendly, the roads excellent, the cost of living relatively cheap but unfortunately when in or near the many townships and larger cities the countryside was littered with plastic and garbage. Regardless, the country is amazing, the landscape incredibly beautiful and diverse, and we would highly recommend a visit to this country.
We departed Jo-Burg on the 22nd after picking up our 4 x 4 camper and headed west to Kuruman for a pit stop after a long 7 hour drive. The landscape was primarily flat (unusual for South Africa so far) and arid prairie. We spent the night camping at Red Sands Lodge. This was our first night setting up the camper and spending a night so we were very smart in our planning…we picked up a bucket of KFC and cole slaw for dinner, lit a fire, dug into the chicken and slaw, sipped on wine and beer and sang along with “one two three o’clock rock” that was blasting over the campground from a wedding being held at the lodge nearby.
We departed the next morning for an approximately 350 km drive out of which about 160 km was washboard, pot-holed gravel and sand. Our bones didn’t stop rattling until an hour after our arrival in the Kalahari desert at Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in North Western SA. The desert is as they say, hot during the day and very cold at night. It was -6 C this morning and warmed up to at least 28 C in the afternoon. We took it easy today and updated the blog, relaxed in the sun and barbecued chicken, squash and scalloped potatoes over the brai (BBQ) while the sun set over a dusty hue in the distance. The stars are amazing at night in the desert and the Milky Way (absolutely stunning) can be seen from the Northern to Southern horizon. After much contemplation on our existence on this tiny blue planet and our place in the universe and feeling a little numb from the cold I crawled into bed (Joyce crashed earlier) and dreamed about driving down endless bumpy gravel roads! My place in the universe for the next 6 weeks!
Yesterday we reluctantly departed Umlani Bush Camp to make our way back to Johannesburg with a one night stop at a lodge in Mount Sheba on the panoramic route and then arriving back to Jo-Burg today at about 2:30 pm. The drive was very scenic and was quite similar in ways to the interior of British Columbia with arid hills, sweeping mountain views and then unfortunately as we neared Jo-Burg, a very thick smog of coal smoke from a nearby power station. We left 30+ C weather in Kruger and Umlani Camp to a temperate 17 C in Jo-Burg. We’ll spend 4 nights here, drop off our Toyota Corolla, pick up our Toyota TRAX 4 x 4 HILUX camper, do some grocery shopping and then head out to the great wide open for 6 weeks of camping, lodging, self drive safaris and adventure in Namibia and Botswana. Before we enter Namibia we’ll spend a night in Kuruman in the Northern Cape Province and then 2 nights camping in the South Africa side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Kalahari Desert. Once we enter Namibia we’ll have spent over 6 weeks travelling through South Africa.
We arrived at Berg-en dal rest camp in Kruger NP early and before our 2:00 pm check in so we had a burger at the rest camp restaurant, checked in and decided to do a self drive for a couple of hours before the 5:30 gate closing time.
The camp/lodge offers ranger guided safaris so we booked an early (5:30 am) safari and an afternoon safari for the next day. The self drive roads were a little confusing but we did manage to spot elephant, giraffe, impala and kudu.
Our lodge accommodation was secluded, comfortable and quiet and our private patio faced the forest where baboons stopped by to check us out and at night we were lucky to see two bush babies jumping through the trees nearby.
The camp offered two safari vehicle types, one that seated probably 15-20 people and two others that seated about 8. Not knowing how many people would be on the morning drive we got up at 4:30 am, had a coffee and went to the meeting point by 5:00 am determined to get the best seats on whatever safari 4 x 4 would be used.
To our amazement and delight we were the only two booked for the drive!
The morning drive revealed beautiful birds, cape buffalo, elephant, giraffe and incredible landscapes. The morning was quite cold but incredibly, warmed up to 34 C by mid afternoon so we had a very comfortable and rewarding afternoon drive, the highlight being a very agitated bull elephant in musk who decided to charge our safari truck. This was a highlight and the video is attached. All in all, a great couple of days but still no lions! Next stop Umlani Bush Camp in the Timbavati region of the greater Kruger NP.
On our way this morning to Umlani Bush Camp after 2 1/2 days and some crazy elephant action in Kruger National Park. We’ll be spending 3 nights at the camp without electricity in the Timbavati which is part of the northern greater Kruger NP region on a 10,000 hectare private reserve with one night spent in a tree house 3 km away from the camp. Should be interesting!
Umlani Bush Camp is hard to put into words. Nestled in more than 10,000 hectares of African wilderness we did 5 safaris totalling more than 17 hours of off-road bush driving. We encountered close up lions, wild dog, elephant, giraffe, rhino, leopard, hyena, Cape buffalo and the list goes on. The highlight was probably seeing a very rare white female lion and staying over night in a tree house 3 km from camp located beside a watering hole. We fell asleep listening to the roar of nearby lions and were awoken at 3:00 am to herd of elephant below us stopping in to the hole for an early morning drink. We drank wine and gazed at the stars and the amazing Milky Way above. Absolutely awe-inspiring with no moon and no light pollution. When we awoke at around 5:30 am waiting for our morning safari pick up I scanned the edges of the watering hole. Joyce asked if I could see anything and I said yes, a couple of male lions having a drink. No way! Yes way! They they were. We watched them drink and could hear them slurping the water and then they headed off on their merry way probably looking for their next kill. People assume only the female lion does the hunting but males without a pride do their fair share of killing too. We were picked up at about 6:15 am, had a hot cup of coffee, two tiny pancakes and then headed out to what would be another fantastic morning of rare and not often seen animal sightings…..a leopard sitting in a tree with a very full stomach, a pack of wild dogs ravaging at the leopards impala kill below his tree and 8 hyena circling around waiting for the scraps all while a beautiful white breasted vulture circled above. Truly fantastic.
Throughout our three days we did a bush walk with our armed ranger and sat quietly watching two elephants dig for water in a dry river bed, sat and drank beers on a camp deck overlooking a dry river bed watching mother and baby elephants 100 metres away, listening to cape buffalo grunting and making their beds beside our hut while we slept wondering if they had any desire to check us out and sitting around a fire after a long day gazing at the stars. As I said, very hard to put into words the vastness, solitude and back to nature experience we had at Umlani Bush Camp. We were truly sad to leave this magical place.
Today we took the 4 x 4 transport back to our car and headed north-west to the Kingdom of Swaziland for a one night stopover at a lodge before heading to Kruger National Park for 5 days of safaris and game viewing. Below are a few pics highlighting the beauty of the Swaziland landscape.
After two fantastic days and three amazing safaris through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi park we traveled north to our 4 x 4 pick up point to take us for two nights to Thonga Beach Lodge, a luxurious lodge nestled in the dunes and forests of the Maputuland or Elephant coast and located in part of the 332,000 hectare iSimangaliso Wetland Park which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Our bush bungalow and surrounding forest and beach was spectacular.
July 7th we departed Umhlanga for another long drive to Hluhluwe-Imfollzi Park. The park is the oldest proclaimed reserve in Africa comprising 960 sq. km of hilly topography in central Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The big 5 can be found here and through conservation efforts the park boasts the largest population of white rhinos in the world. Unfortunately a few days before our arrival 6 rhinos were killed by poachers and then several days later 3 poachers were arrested and 2 were killed by the anti- poaching patrols. We feel no sympathy for the poachers. We encountered many rhinos, elephant, Cape buffalo, kudu, giraffe, and were very lucky to see a pack of wild dogs in the distance which is a very rate occurrence but still haven’t been up close to lions yet. I’m sure we’ll see these soon in Kruger National Park. We stayed at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge in a luxury villa suite with a private deck and incredible panoramic views of the hills and valleys of the surrounding park.
What was supposed to be 654 km and approximately 8 hours of driving turned into probably 700+ km and 10 1/2 hours travel time.
Shit happens when you miss important road signs and continue on your merry way wondering why all of the semi-trailer traffic has ceased to exist. Could we be going the wrong way?
We turned on our trusty iPhone Maps navigator and were immediately told “U-Turn, U-Turn!!!”. Our hunch was correct so we U-turned and were told to turn left on P601, about 1 km down the road. Great, not too far out of the way. We turned onto P601 and after no more than 5 km the road went from a small paved surfaced to a very rough gravel road. This doesn’t look good but our iPhone must know some sort of shortcut? We followed the gravel road for 17 km through beautiful hills and planted pine trees and learned that silviculture is thriving in this area.
We finally connected to a paved road and were told to turn left 1 km ahead and when we reached our turning point discovered another very rough gravel road.
As it turned out we didn’t have cell reception so the directions we were receiving were stuck in a loop! Okay, now what? We did see a sign that the road we were on would eventually lead to the highway we needed but didn’t know if we would be backtracking or not so we ignored our maps and finally found our way to the main highway heading to Durban.
The drive from Chintsa to Durban is very rural and filled with hills, mountains, hazy skies from wood smoke, small towns and townships and our detour added in wandering cows and horses and a true taste of real life rural Africa.
July 1st (Happy Canada Day!) and another 4 hour drive brought us to Crawfords Beach in Chintsa in the Eastern Cape and on what is called the “Wild Coast”. The beach is long and pristine and is backed by large vegetated sand dunes. Fisherman cast their bait from the shoreline, wales breached in the distance and dolphins splashed in the nearby waves and the monkey thieves roamed from room to room looking for unprotected loot. We spent our second day walking the beach and today working on the blog since a front moved in and unloaded some very much needed rain onto the area.
We departed Port Elizabeth on the 29th for a short 1 hour drive to Addo. There was nothing special in Port Elizabeth and the weather was cold and windy and it was a stop to break up the long drive to Addo from Knysna.
The weather was beautiful on our arrival so we figured we would take advantage and do an afternoon safari in Addo Elephant National Park. The park is the third largest in South Africa after Kruger NP and Kgalagadi NP which we will be visiting as well. There are more than 600 elephants, 400 Cape buffaloes, over 48 endangered black rhinos, as well as a variety of antelope species in the park. Transvaal lion and spotted hyena have also been reintroduced into the area although we didn’t see any lion or rhino during our safari. The park is also home to the largest remaining population of the flightless dung beetle. We got lucky and encountered warthogs, zebra, kudu, jackel and hyenas but the highlite was a very close encounter with a herd of elephants containing several youngsters and bulls.