8 Aug. We have only a few weeks until we begin our two month long course with Eco Training and we need to spend a few days in Johannesburg with our friends Marius and Ena so that Keith can give the Land Rover a service in readiness for next few months on the road.
So we decide to spend this time in the north of the country going around a few National Parks and Game Reserves as well as enjoying some of the pretty scenery these regions have to offer. First stop is Augrabies Falls and on the way we pass through the Kalahari region where we are surprised to find mile after mile of red sand dunes and flat, arid land with little vegetation.
We also pass a few pans and take a detour to a couple of them, one of which is used for mining salt. Its a like being back in Namibia or Botswana. There is such diverse habitats and eco systems in South Africa that it seems all of the continent is represented here in this one country.
Augrabies National Park
Just outside Upington we find a nice little campsite on the Orange River and we are surprised to find fields along here which are irrigated from the river and used to grow grapes for wine. Augrabies National Park is only about 100kms from here and we pass through increasingly arid, rocky and hilly terrain as we travel. The park is lovely and the Orange River plunges over rocks into steep gorges which are beautiful. In full flood it must be incredible. In the evening the main falls are floodlit and are reached by a series of paths and platforms. With the lights illuminating them, they look stunning.
Today we decide to take a drive around and then do one or two of the trails. The views are lovely and there are so many birds, colourful lizards and some klipspringers too. One of these is so used to people that we are able to get really close to him.
Lots of strange and beautiful rock formations here too! Well it would be if Keith would get out of the photo.
As we sit around our campfire eating our braai tonight we are aware of movement in the bush next to us. As we watch, a little genet creeps out and starts to climb onto the braai to investigate our dinner remains. These creatures are so pretty and this one was not at all bothered by us. He clearly gets fed by campers here but it makes a nice change from monkeys and baboons trying to steal our food. https://www.sanparks.org/parks/augrabies/
The drive from Augrabies to our next stop near Kuruman is a long one. The road is pretty boring to be honest and we are glad to arrive at Red Sands Lodge. We decide to spoil ourselves and take one of the little chalets so that we can sleep in a proper bed and have a bath!!!!! We even have dinner here and it is a pleasant surprise to find that our total bill for the room, breakfast, dinner and wine is only about £60. http://www.redsands.co.za
Botsalano Game Reserve.
This park is a well kept secret. It is only small but it is remote and not busy and they specialise in rearing game here to sell to private and National game parks. The camp site itself is lovely and as it is just for one group we have the place to ourselves with a few monkeys for company. The terrain is a little more hilly and it is proper African bush with lots of acacias and plenty of wildlife.
One of the animals we are pleased to see is black wildebeest, as we have not seen them before. They are quite different to the more common blue wildebeest and we think much prettier. What do you think?
If you get the chance to spend a day or two here it is well worth the drive.http://www.tourismnorthwest.co.za/botsalano-game-reserve/#tab=tab-1
Pilanesberg National Park
We have been here before, several years ago now, on our way to a couple of weeks in Botswana, but we thought it might be a nice place to spend our last couple of days before heading to the city. The scenery in this park is stunning and there is plenty to see. The views from some of the lookout stops are incredible as you can see for miles. It can get a little busy as it is not far from Joburg and so is pretty popular. We see plenty of game too, including 11 white rhino. The only disappointment is that there is no campsite in the park itself, you have to stay just outside and it is a fairly crowded and soulless sort of a place, the only plus side being the impala mooching about and the friendly warthogs sleeping next to the Land Rover.
The baboons here however are a complete nightmare. One family turns up with two cars and proceeds to take everything out of their cars, set it all up nicely under a gazebo and then disappear to the bar. Big mistake. Within a few minutes there are so many baboons that we just can’t hold them off with our shouting and our faithful catapult. They take everything, emptying boxes, bags and coolers of anything remotely edible. As the last baboon scampers off into the bush clutching a bag of sugar under one arm and a jar of instant coffee under another, clearly looking to have a massive caffeine and sugar rush, the family arrive back to a scene of carnage. They are eating in the restaurant tonight, unsurprisingly.
We have some lovely friends and family in Joburg and we arrive at Marius and Ena’s lovely home with their 9 little daschounds to sort out Landy, eat, drink and chat. Ena is an amazing cook and she takes it upon herself to feed us up and Marius seems to think we need lots of alcohol. Happy times! Marius and Keith spend several days going over everything on Landy and replacing lots of parts. It looks drastic but it is important to look after her and make sure we have lots of spares too. We want to be self sufficient if anything goes wrong in the middle of nowhere.
The lovely Ena puts all our bedding and clothes in her washing machine and we remove all the Kalahari sand from the nooks and crannies inside Landy. Its like having a new car again – well, almost.
After several days of civilisation (including hair cuts!) we head off to Dullstroom where we have a family wedding to go to. We have somehow managed to scrub up okay and it is lovely to see family and meet lots of new friends too. Sam and Andrew’s wedding is beautiful and we have such a lovely time. We even get an offer of a place to store Landy in Joburg when we leave in a years time. (still a year to go!)
We decide to take a drive to Dullstroom for lunch the day after the wedding and we notice that Landy has an oil leak. Now, I know that Land Rover owners are used to having oil leaks and that you know when a Landy has run out of oil when you can’t see any on the ground but this is a serious leak. We fill her up with oil but don’t even get back to our hotel before its run out again. So we have to fit a new oil filter on the side of the road. Keith is dressed in his only smart clothes and all our clothes are in the hotel room. He duly strips down to his underpants and and fits a new oil filter. The things you have to do as the proud owner of a Land Rover.
The Blyde River Canyon area
The drive from Dullstroom across to Sabie takes us through plantations country and the mountainous terrain is beautiful but stressful as Landy decides that the oil filter issue was not sufficient inconvenience for us and so begins to overheat when we climb up steep inclines. She does this sometimes and we just have to take it easy, particularly when it is very hot. We spend a couple of days in Sabie at Merry Pebbles campsite and take a few walks in the surrounding woods up to some waterfalls.
There are so many nice places to visit here, most of which we have been to before but they are well worth another visit. Mac Mac Pools are pretty and perfect for a cooling dip. The waterfalls around her are all lovely, including Mac Mac Falls, Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls and at this time of the year the wild flowers are beginning to appear along with lovely green grass and trees. They do get a bit more rain here so it is not so dry and arid looking. The drive along the top of the canyon, with its various stopping places such as the viewpoint for the three rondavels, is great fun and we decide to follow a small sign which points down a track advertising the Pot Luck Bush Kitchen. Oh wow! If you are ever in this area you simply must go to this place. The location is stunning and the food is wonderful. Its all local good ingredients and very simple bush cooking with no electric. The atmosphere is lovely and the whole experience is a real highlight. The drive to it is a little mini adventure with a great photo opportunity for Landy.
We decide to spend the next couple of nights at the Forever Resort. Its a bit commercialised but the facilities are great and they have their own access to walks down into the canyon. We set off with lots of water and a picnic lunch on one of the trails and it turns out to be very hard work but incredibly rewarding. Its rocky and challenging on the way down but as we climb back up we follow the route of a small river as it tumbles down the hillside forming pool after pool, all of which are perfect for swimming in. Each turn in the path presents us with another pretty pool, each one more picturesque than the one before it. A real highlight and we will definitely stay here again, just to do the walks.
Another place well worth visiting is on the other side of the canyon. The Sat Nav tells us it is only 6kms away but of course we have to go all the way around and it ends up being about 80kms. This is a land of mountain passes and valleys of citrus fruits. We pass villages or roadside areas where it is no exaggeration to say there are 30 stalls, side by side, all selling the same stuff; oranges, mangoes and avocados. If you set up a stall here selling potatoes I think you would make a fortune.
After seeing the beautiful dam, and staying at another Forever resort on the other side of the canyon, we head to a dot on our Track 4 Africa map which shows a campsite right down in the canyon, apparently completely isolated. We turn off the main road and the track slowly becomes rougher and steeper, first uphill, then down and in places you wouldn’t get through without a 4×4. We arrive at a hut where a man on duty informs us that there is, indeed, a campsite a further 6kms further on down a track that is really rough and steep with huge rocks to negotiate as well. However, when we arrive at the bottom and see the campsite, right on the river at the bottom of the canyon, with no-one else there and no buildings or people in sight, we can only say that it is definitely worth the difficult drive.
We spend an idyllic few days here swimming in the river and just chilling out. Keith has a close encounter with a snake when he walks back to the tent stark naked but apart from that it is a uneventful, peaceful few days.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is a popular park at the best of times but we struggle to find space in the campsites here because, unbeknown to us, August and September are half price for entry and accommodation for pensioners. It was rammed with little camper vans! We do manage to find a couple of campsites but they are far apart so one of the days here involves a long drive but Kruger never disappoints and we see plenty of game and even watch a pride of lions playing with their cubs. We sit in the car watching a group of elephants drinking and splashing in a small river and all of a sudden there is a right commotion as a crocodile launches itself out of the water, scattering elephants in all directions. They must have almost stood on it. They didn’t seem too keen to go back in after that.
And so our few weeks back in South Africa is about to change again as we prepare to go into the bush for what we hope will be an amazing experience; learning how to be Field Guides.