November 21, 2017 – February 15, 2018
There’s something special about Africa that’s difficult to put into words. It speaks to your soul, it changes your perceptions and before you know it you’re under its spell. It’s not surprising; after all it’s the Cradle of Humankind!
South Africa has been high on our travel list for a few years now and finally the timing was right. Priscilla has family roots there – her Mother was born in South Africa, her son and family live in Pretoria and relatives and friends are scattered across the country.
We made our base in Pretoria, one of South Africa’s three capital cities. Pretoria hosts the Executive Branch of Government, Cape Town is the Legislative Capital and Bloemfontein the Judicial Capital.
Pretoria is known as “Jacaranda City” which presents an amazing spectacle each Spring. Unfortunately we arrived too late to enjoy that. Remember, Seasons are reversed so our three month visit took place in late Spring and early Summer!
South Africa Highlights
We left the U.S. in late November to take advantage of the School and University Christmas Holidays which run from mid-December to mid-January, giving us plenty of time to spend with family and get to know the grandchildren, ages 6 and 4.
We took advantage of the beautiful weather, spent time relaxing in the garden and enjoyed delicious BBQ’s (known as Braais). We celebrated birthdays and a very special family Christmas: a traditional English Christmas with stockings hanging on the fireplace, roast turkey, mince pies and “Crackers” with novelties and paper hats! This family time was definitely the Highlight of our trip!
Kruger National Park
The country’s wildlife is not to be missed so we rented a car and headed for Kruger National Park some four hours away. The road system in South Africa is very good although Bill had to contend with driving a stick shift car on the wrong side of the road as well as looking out for the crazy taxi drivers in minibuses (usually overflowing with passengers and packages) who are quite likely to stop without notice to pick up extra passengers!
Ours was not the normal “American style” safari with fancy lodges, sunset cocktail parties in the bush and high prices! We chose to stay outside the park in a small lodge surrounded by banana plantations and take day trips into the Park. The owner of the lodge mapped out routes that we could easily drive in a day and we set off at dawn with a picnic lunch prepared by the lodge. South Africans love to travel and this was their summer holiday so we knew the Park would be more crowded than usual and there could be a long line at the entrance gate.
Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa (7,523 sq. miles/19,485 sq. km). It’s home to a huge number of wild animals including the Big 5: Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Rhinos and Cape Buffaloes (water buffaloes are found in Asia and there are no tigers in Africa!) so we knew we’d have plenty of opportunity to observe and photograph different species.
Almost as soon as we paid our entrance fee of $55.00 and passed through the Gate we saw zebra, giraffe and the first of many herds of Impala antelope, with one male guarding his females from opportunistic rivals! Beautiful female Greater Kudu antelopes with their large ears stopped their browsing to peer at us and, seeing no danger, continued their meal; a solitary Kudu Bull, with majestic horns, crossed the road in front of us.
The park is known for its large Elephant population and throughout the day we saw several herds browsing close by. One herd crossed the road in front of us, on its way to a water hole. We kept our distance, had the engine running and the car in reverse just in case one of them decided they didn’t like the look of us! Here in Kruger Animals have the Right of Way!
Game viewing is not just about looking for the Big 5. The bush is alive with creatures like the tortoise we saw on the roadside, the small shy Steenbok and Grey Duiker hiding in the grass, the ugly looking warthog wallowing in the mud and giraffes browsing on the acacia trees along the road.
Birders will not be disappointed. A good pair of binoculars and a checklist will keep you busy all day! We saw many of the common birds such as the beautiful Lilac Breasted Roller, the Cape Starling and different kingfishers as well as a Secretary Bird and Ground Hornbill foraging for insects, snakes and small mammals. Check out photos of Kruger National Park birds We sat quietly at a waterhole listening to the sounds of Africa while watching a crocodile sunning on the shore, animals coming to drink and waterfowl splashing in the water.
We took a break from driving and stopped at a couple of picnic sites during the day and before we knew it we were heading for the exit before the Gate closed at 6:30pm. There’s a hefty fine if you’re late! Back at the lodge it was time to sit quietly and appreciate what a privilege it is to see these amazing creatures living in the wild.
We’ll never get tired of game viewing but soon it was time to move on to explore some of the incredible landscapes for which South Africa is famous.
South Africa has one of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes in the world. Its natural beauty is endless: mountain ranges, semi desert known as the Karoo, canyons, rivers and waterfalls. It’s been called “A world in one Country” and rightly so.
A short distance from Kruger Park is the Panorama Route, considered one of the most scenic drives in the country, encompassing several waterfalls, historic towns and natural marvels including Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon and Fish River Canyon.
We spent a day driving part of this route, stopping at the town of Graskop for a Portuguese lunch then on to God’s Window. After walking up a long, steep pathway we arrived at the 6,000ft (1,829m) scenic lookout on the Drakensberg escarpment . Despite the fact that the day was slightly hazy, the view of the lush green Blyde River valley some 3,000ft (914.4m) below was breathtaking. The panoramic view seems to go on forever and, quite frankly, you feel as if you can see to the end of the earth! In fact, on a clear day you can see all the way to Mozambique!
Before returning to Pretoria our drive took us through the fertile farming valley of Ohrigstad, the oldest town on the Panorama Route and now known for producing fruit, maize, beans and Macadamias. We stayed in the town of Lydenburg at the charming Manor Guesthouse . The gardens are stunning, the rooms beautifully decorated and the owners took great care to make sure we were happy. A nice ending to our short trip.
Breathtaking Landscapes continue on our next trip to the Cape Winelands and Garden Route.
Manor Guest House Grounds
Cradle of Humankind Link: https://photos.app.goo.gl/b1Et2ywxKrfsznJs1
Kruger Link: https://photos.app.goo.gl/SMJBas4aHBFqTxK62