Trip Start Jun 22, 2012
2Trip End Sep 28, 2012
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Visited the Australian Pavilion at World Expo in Yeosu, Korea, via videoconference today. Craig and I take the visitors for a dive at Reef HQ.
Friday 22nd June 2012
Had tea at Patrick's. Patrick took us to the airport and we flew to Brisbane. Alistair picked us up. In bed by midnight.
Saturday 23nd June 2012
Went to Rocklea markets
Barbi cooked chicken and leek pie for tea.
Sunday 24th June 2012
Woke at 2:45 am. Took taxi to Brisbane airport. $80.00. Had to wait until 4.30 for them to open check in. Flew to Sydney. Changed planes. Boeing 747 to Johannesburg. 14 hours 15 minutes. Enough said. Never again. Anywhere I go after this trip will be in the Pajero. In the back row so had aisle seat and nice big space. Lots of people came to pass the time there. We could see icebergs as we flew very far south.
Arrived at Johannesburg about 5.00 pm South African time. There was a huge queue and we waited over an hour in immigration. Walked straight through customs through the nothing to declare door. A porter grabbed our bags which we had piled on a trolley and escorted us through the bowels of Jo’burg air terminal to the shuttle bus to the hotel
Monday 25th June
We had taken malaria pills over two days and I was sick as a dog. Couldn’t eat breakfast. Brought it up. Another voyage through O.R.Tambo Airport to find the little Dash 8 to take us to Hoedspruit, the taking off place for the safari lodges. After a forty minute flight, which included the longest taxiway in history, we were met by a driver (name even spelled correctly on his sign) and he drove us to our lodge, Royal Legend, in the Timbavati reserve.
We were the only guests. We had this great luxurious resort to ourselves.
The lodge was really nice – situated in the bush and facing a dry river bed. The river was not so dry in January when it flooded and the dining area was about 4 feet underwater
The room was very grand with a huge bed and, during the day, the mosquito net made a grand canopy, making you feel very exotic and pampered. At night it enveloped the bed and took some fighting to get in and out. Besides the bedroom there was a giant bathroom with an indoor and an outdoor shower. The shower was quite open but it was a bit too cold to use so we used the indoor shower and the spa bath (which didn’t work as the plug leaked and the water never got over the blowers but we didn’t mind and couldn’t be bothered disturbing our peace to get it fixed.) The big uncurtained windows looked across the bush and we just hoped nobody could walk by. There were blinds you could lower but they spoiled the view. They were closed at night. The toilet had no blinds or curtains, just a big picture window.
The dining area was half under cover and half open. At night a fire burned near the tables to keep us cosy. It was surprisingly cold at night. A Red-billed Hornbill danced attendance on the verandah every meal time, hoping for a handout. The tables were always very tastefully set out with fancy folded napkins
Game drives were set for 6.00 am with a wake up call at 5.30 but, as we were the only guests, we talked them into going half an hour later which was just as well as it didn’t get light until nearly 6.30 am. The evening drives started at 3.30 pm and both drives went for 3 to 3 1/2 hours each. The vehicle was an open Landrover converted into a safari truck that could carry three rows of three people with another passenger beside the driver. The tracker sat out on a little jockey seat mounted on the front left hand side of the vehicle. How he didn’t get wiped off as the truck swerved through the bush off-road I do not know. The morning drive was always freezing in the open air until about 8.00 am and the evening one soon became just as cold as the sun went down.
Timbavati and Sabi Sands, the two reserves we visited, are large tracts of land on the western side of Kruger National Park. There are quite a few of these reserves. They are divided up into the various lodges which are privately owned. These reserves are unfenced so all the Kruger National Park animals roam freely through them. In Kruger proper you can drive only on the designated roads
We had three morning and three afternoon drives at Royal Legend with the truck all to ourselves. About 8.00am we would stop for a cup of hot chocolate and a biscuit and at sunset we would find a nice spot for Sundowners. That was the only time we could leave the vehicle. You are never allowed to stand in the vehicle and when animals approach you have to be very quiet and still.
Every drive was different and within two days we had notched up the big five. Early in the morning we found a leopard, the most elusive of the five, skulking through the grass
Two male lions were chewing grass in the bush and, once again, they completely ignored us. After a while they sat down quite close to the vehicle and looked very pleased with themselves. They groomed themselves like domestic cats and settled down for a sleep. Over the six drives we saw plenty of elephants and came across white rhino twice.
The elephants were usually in a big group of females and younger ones. Occasionally we saw a big bull. The babies were beautiful and one came right up to us to say hello. The first rhino we saw was wallowing in a mud hole. After a while he heaved his great bulk up and wandered a bit towards us and then turned around and sank back into the mud. A busy day for him. The second time we saw them there were two out walking and one came trotting towards us. I am glad he wasn’t charging though trotting was enough to scare me.
So that was four and then for the buffalo. Royal Legend excelled in buffalo. We had seen a big herd late on the second afternoon – maybe up to 500, according to the guide. They were wandering across in front of us, glaring balefully at us from time to time, attended by their Red-billed Oxpeckers and followed by Fork-tailed Drongos who dive in and eat insects disturbed by them. But on the last morning they really put on a show. We sat across from a waterhole and our guide, David, and tracker, Kenneth, (both local African men) pointed out a herd in the bush and predicted that they would come down to drink in about ten minutes
Besides the big five we saw giraffes, zebras, dwarf mongoose, blue wildebeest (gnu) and plenty of birds. We could just see the ears and eyes of some hippos in a waterhole and we saw quite a few Nile crocodiles. They look very much like our salties. There were plenty of impala and quite a few kudu, water buck, steenbok and just a couple of nyala and grey duiker, all members of the antelope family. At the dining room a troop of Vervet monkeys slowly crossed the dry riverbed in dribs and drabs. They sat up on a few dead tree branches and nibbled on stuff. Later they came on to the verandah of our lodge and stared longingly inside. What mischief they would have made had they got in I didn’t like to contemplate.
On our last full day we were on the main road that leads from reserve to reserve (the tar road) when the guide spotted a lioness lying just off the road shoulder in the dust
Quite a few cars went past on the lions’ side of the road and even though we signalled them to slow down and they knew we were looking at something, no-one else spotted them, so good is their camouflage. Our guide and tracker were brilliant to find them.
A white vehicle approached and we signalled to them to slow. I could see a lady in the front and I thought maybe all South African women must look alike as she reminded me of my niece’s mother-in-law who lives about 600 km from Timbavati. Then I saw two little boys in the back who looked like my niece’s kids
On to Arathusa in North Sabi Sands. We were picked up by a driver and took off on the two hour drive. We asked him to stop at an ATM so he took us into a very colourful town called Acornhoek. Many people have to wheel wheelbarrows for quite a way and cart the water for their houses in large plastic containers. They looked as if each container held 40 or 50 litres so they would be very heavy. Others were wheeling barrows piled high with firewood. In many places there is no electricity and firewood is very important. Even though the town is close to Kruger National Park, not many Africans have employment in the tourism industry compared to the large population. Unemployment is high.
There were market stalls all along the roadside selling oranges, brooms made from sticks, and all sorts of clothing and household goods. The ATM has a permanent security guard. Loud music throbbed out all around the shopping precinct and people were thronging everywhere
Back to the dusty tracks and into Arathusa. This time there were about 22 other guests but certainly not overcrowded. We usually had about six in our truck so we had plenty of room. Once again our lodge was beautifully appointed but maybe a touch less luxurious. In front of the dining area/bar/deck was a waterhole full of water. There were always animals coming to drink or just hanging around and grazing. At various times there were elephants, impala, water buck, warthogs and even lions. We all went down to the edge to see the lions, just a few hundred metres from our bedroom and no fences in between. On two nights the lions came right up to some of the more far flung lodges. Not ours, thank goodness. They were the “luxury” suites. Glad I was in economy. A couple of hippos slept the day away in the waterhole.
The first night we heard a very strange noise and we found out next day it was a hyena. At Arathusa we saw hyenas, warthog and jackal which I had been hoping to see. We saw wild dog tracks but couldn’t find the wild dogs. Shame. Once again we saw all the critters we had seen at Timbavati but they were thicker on the ground at Arathusa
We had several exciting encounters with leopards. The first one sat resting in the long grass then she slowly stood up, wandered over to our vehicle right beside me. I can assure you I sat very still indeed. I could have reached over the side and touched her. But I didn’t. She then slunk under the car and reappeared beside Ray on the other side and wandered off into the long grass and settled down for a nap. The next day we followed a leopard off road along a grassy path. She also sat down after a while and completely ignored us until we drove off.
The last morning we came across a leopard lying in the long grass at the foot of the tree. On a branch above her was a half eaten impala that she must have caught the previous day. There was a hyena hanging around, waiting for scraps. After a while the leopard decided we might be wanting to partake of her impala so she jumped up and sprang towards us, snarling and baring her teeth. The guide waved his arms about and spoke to her sternly. She suddenly changed course and scampered up the tree where she took up guard on the impala and was still there when we left. Can you imagine a more picture perfect scene on a safari than a leopard protecting its kill up a tree.
Occasionally our guide and tracker would leave us in the vehicle and go off up a track, following paw prints. I did wonder what would have become of us if they had been gobbled up by something. One day our guide had been conducting a bush walk on foot when a buffalo chased him up a tree and he had to radio for help. The guides chatter on the two-way radio all the time, telling each other where they have spotted game. They chat in the local language so the guests don’t know what they are talking about as they like to surprise you. I got to recognise a few words. Ngala is lion and mkhumbi is rhino. We always knew if the radio message was about a leopard as suddenly the guide would drive like a bat out of hell across the bumpy dirt roads.
All too soon it was time to join the driver for the trip back to Hoedspruit and the flight to Johannesburg. The biggest surprise at Johannesburg, South Africa’s busiest international airport, was having to take a bus from the terminal to wherever the plane was parked and the climb up the stairs into a jumbo jet.
I will put up pictures soon. Going up to London tomorrow for two days.