A South African Road Trip – Kruger to Cape Town – Part one.
Limpopo to Swaziland
Compelled to explore more of this beautiful country we have some how landed up in, Ben and I decided to tag a 10 day road trip/holiday on to the end of our work on the Habitable Planet workshop in Pretoria/Limpopo.
The holiday really began for me with our trip to the Kruger National Park – somewhere I’ve been waiting to go since I was six and listened to my Grandads stories of rhinos chasing him and lions roaring in the night. Spoiled by my trip last year to Botswana, I was worried that the day might disappoint. My fears were unfounded as Kruger provided me with a different sense of awe. I felt happy and almost proud that an area this large could be kept for animals and made accessible for many people to appreciate without the ridiculous prices charged by many of the lodges in places like Botswana. Within seconds of passing through the Orpen gate we had spotted rhino – a first sighting for me and one that evoked a lot of emotion – more than 1 rhino has been killed on average every day this year in South Africa – all for ridiculous, scientifically unfounded Eastern “medicine”. I actually donated my hair to be sent to various embassies a few months back – along with many others hair and nails – rhino horns are merely keratin after all! Check the campaign video here. The best sighting of the day had to be the leopard we saw – perched in a picture perfect manner on a tree right next to the road – awesome.
Animal sightings were to be found everywhere – including a gorgeous tiny owl just inside the rest camp!
Seeing the animals in Kruger was amazing but we couldn’t miss the chance to get up close and personal with them at Moholoholo rehabilitation centre. A refuge for animals involved in human development conflicts, this site is home to a range of African animals from lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs to honey badgers, vultures, caracals and birds of prey! We got to stroke a cheetah whilst he quietly purred and even got to meet Landela – the baby rhino – still a force to be reckoned with even at a fraction of the size she will grow to be!
I very much enjoyed seeing the wild dogs I’d heard Cath talk about during the Habitable Planet workshop and after seeing a hyena up close have reformed my opinion – they look like fluffy teddy bears, not the hell hounds I saw gliding in the dark in Botswana.
Several highlights emerged from this afternoon enjoyed with Lauren and Ben. Firstly, the story of Stoffel the honey badger. Notoriously vicious and daring, Stoffel has caused no end of trouble at Moholoholo, escaping in to the lion enclosure to take on the adult male lion no less than 3 times! He even dug his way out of a new enclosure to head back there for another round! He is now enclosed by 6ft deep walls and is kept in check by a Mrs Stoffel. Honey badgers are probably my favourite African animal – you just can’t dislike an animal that determined! I certainly wasn’t in a hurry to get in the way of the one who pootled in to our campsite in Savute – Botswana!
A second highlight was the chance to feed and hold (or try to) a vulture. Not really realising what we’d volunteered for, Ben, La and I were verbally abused by the vultures for some minutes before they swooped from their perches to land their entire (not insignificant) weight on our arms! Cue gormless faces….
After leaving the workshop group in Limpopo, Ben and I began our holiday road trip home in Po (our fiat panda). We had booked our first two nights in two places in Swaziland, but still managed to visit Gods Window in our rush to get through the Oshoek border. Gods window was cool, a pretty and epic view (this became a bit of a standard for the trip, with numerous exclamations of “oh look another epic view!”).
We stopped for lunch in Graskop after noticing a “home made pie shop” sign. We were welcomed to Autumn Breath by the very cheerful Johan and, after learning some Afrikaans, requested to try the home made pepper steak pie, chips and gravy. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say this has to be the best pie and chips I’ve had in SA! There’s no shortage of pies in this country but this one had rich, fluffy pastry, delicious, soft beef filling and the chips tasted just like the ones my Grandad makes from his potatoes at home – a crispy outside and fluffy inside! Fresh, pulpy orange juice and a generous sized cafertiere of coffee (enough to fill our travel mugs too) made a perfect meal. I thoroughly recommend anyone visiting the area to pop in for a pie and Johan and Ina actually have a small number of B&B rooms, which – if anything like their pies and hospitality – will be fabulous. Inspired, I have since determined to work on my own pies, based on several culinary experiences during this trip.
A brief stop in a well stocked Graskop Spar allowed us to drive straight to the Swaziland border for a sunset arrival in Malalotja nature reserve. The border crossing was easy and fairly quick (although I do wish people would queue!!!). Leaving our keys accidently on the desk at customs introduced us to the kindness of the Swaziland people as a man rushed to return them to us. A warm smile from the gate guard at Malalotja continued this and we were instantly impressed with this low key, great value reserve. Entry cost only R28 and we camped for R60 each. The facilities at the deserted campsite (it was just us and the Blesbok) were more than adequate and a ranger cycled down to light a donkey boiler for our hot water. Each pitch has a well designed eating area with table, bin, fire pit and metal grills/pot stands to cook on. I set to work on a beef short rib and beer potjie with baked potatoes whilst Ben set up our new tent and snapped pictures of the blesbok.
Temperatures plummeted overnight but we awoke early to take in a little of our surrounds.
Malalotja is definitely a place for hiking – I estimate you’d need a week to properly explore this stunning landscape. We vowed to return and headed off to Ngwenya glass – a community project recommended by our friend Ffion – who grew up in Swaziland.
Ngwenya has a history as long as my life! Starting in 1987 this project has undergone several transitions but today still maintains some of the original glass blowers who were trained all those years ago. Glass is collected by local communities and recycled in to a variety of different products ranging from wine glasses and tumblers to giant vases, glass animals and jewellery. We bought two Nelson bowls for rum and coke on our future yacht (we can dream!) and a few other little things as gifts. After tearing Ben away from the viewing platform over the glass blowers, I checked out the cafe menu and soon we were having “hangover eggs” – stay tuned for a recipe inspired by these!
Onwards from Ngwenya we crossed right through the middle of Swaziland to Hlane royal game reserve. Another smiling guard and cheap entrance cost (R35) and camping (R60) confirmed to us that Swaziland really is a great place for the student traveller. Hlane is a more traditional game reserve than Malalotja and the only place in Swaziland to have seen the successful reintroduction of lions. We took Po on a game drive once we’d set up camp, successfully navigating various hummocks thanks to our short wheel base! Two minutes out of the camp gate and we were surrounded by elephants, bok, zebra and an amazing array of bird life. A real highlight for the holiday came when on route back to camp, our path was crossed by two rhino – amazed we made a quick exit upon realising Po probably looks a bit like a small rhino!
We spent the sunset watching the animals coming to drink at the watering hole bordered by our camp – hippo, kudu, nyala, impala, water buck and even the rhino made an appearance – a perfect end to another perfect day in Swaziland.
Another early start saw us on our first open sided landrover game drive! Our guide Johanas was very knowledgeable, telling us about the animals, their behaviours and this history and management of the park. After being woken up by the lions we headed first to the lion section. The lions are kept separate as managing them in combination with the other stock in a comparitively small park is not easy – they already destroyed the Hlane hyenas. Despite this, finding them was no easy task. We searched through the long grass for a good 45 minutes before passing a small waterhole and luckily catching an adult male rear his head for a big yawn before laying down again behind a log!
Patience paid off and he was soon joined by three beautiful lioness. We stopped at a large water hole for a welcome cup of tea and biscuits before searching (and finding!) the rhino again. The game drive was excellent and certainly worth the R250 cost.
We were both sad to leave Hlane and Swaziland, agreeing that, for a first time visitor to Africa, Swaziland would make a safe and simple place to travel and experience the many wonders of Africa in microcosm. On our short road trip there was simply not enough time to explore Swaziland in full and we had to head south through the potholed roads to Lavumisa and the border with Kwa Zulu-Natal and the road to Sodwana Bay…