Thursday 22nd October
Early start again today (christ sake!) we were picked up at something like 6am by Ed our tour guide for the day. He drove us the hour or so to Kruger National Park and sorted out the entry formalities. He then asked us what we wanted to see, so that he could adapt his normal route to suit. As we had already done quite a few safaris and got pictures of elephants, giraffes and lions coming out of our ears we said we would like to see some rhino closer than the ones we had seen in Kenya and Tanzania, we would also like to see some hyena close up, cheetahs and african hunting dogs (as we had yet to see them!) and other than that just take in the scenery. That seemed to please Ed as he didn’t have to tear around trying to find lions or elephants and we just took an easy drive around Kruger seeing what we could find.
We drove for about an hour and then stopped at a cafe, shop and toilet for a quick breakfast pit stop where there were some cheeky birds stealing people’s chips and sandwiches!
After this we continued on with our safari, with Ed a very knowledgeable guide telling us not only about the park itself and the animals contained within but also history of that area of South Africa which was really interesting, you could almost imagine the first settlers arriving on the coast and having to travel with their carts through the wilderness to the mountains….catching glimpses of weird wild animals that frightened them and no doubt killed some of them.
As we drove on through the park we glimpsed buffalo, kudu and a small antelope thing whose name I forget before coming across some rhinos just grazing along the side of the road. Big tick number one!
We sat and watched the rhinos for a bit, very quiet and gentle creatures for their size really. Amazing to finally see some right in front of us in the car.
Eventually we left them in peace and headed off in search of the next big tick….it wasn’t long before we stumbled across a pack of hyenas just lazing in the midday sun, a mum and her cubs. Again, amazing go be able to see these animals so close up too, they have such stunning colours to their fur.
Lunchtime we stopped off at an area with toilets and restaurants and grabbed a bite to eat and a drink for half an hour or so, also give Ed a rest from driving and trying to spot the next big animal for us!
The afternoon was just as full of animals, with a croc and some lions and elephants having a face off (6 lions vs 4 elephants) which was fun to watch…the lions stood their ground for a while then a large male elephant strode towards them waving his trunk around and flapping his ears so the lions backed off down the slope and the elephants trampled past glaring at the lions on the way….once the elephants had gone past the lions slowly crept back up the slope only for one of the smaller male elephants to run back towards them waving his trunk around hooting as if to say ‘yeah in your face king of the jungle’, I thought the lions might retaliate and go for it but it soon trotted off as if sensing he was trying his luck!
We also came across some african hunting dogs chilling out under trees on the side of the road, another big tick! It was the first time we had seen these endangered animals so we switched off the engine for a while and sat watching them slowly wake up from their afternoon naps and start to move about and thinking about dinner! They are so beautifully coloured and patterned, amazing to see finally.
We were well happy with the days viewing and were in the process of calling it a day and heading back towards the gate when Ed said he would just try a road that goes through an area where there are 3 cheetah brothers known to live and hunt, it was on the way back to the gate anyhow and wouldn’t add too much time on. Not that we minded!
So we are all peering out of the windows looking for cheetahs and lo and behold we spotted the brothers all napping under a tree a little way back from the road. They were still a way off and difficult to capture on camera, much like the ones in the Serengeti but I did my best!
Obviously having walked with Lillian the cheetah we had been closer to cheetahs than this but not truly wild ones so it was a pretty cool moment.
All in all a brilliant day animal spotting in what would be our last safari. Ed drove us back to the guesthouse where we grabbed some humus and carrots for dinner and crashed out.
Friday 23rd October
No early start for once!
We were picked up about 9ish and taken to Chimp Eden which was created by Jane Goodall as a sanctuary for abandoned and abused chimps. It is a pretty amazing place, the chimps are provided a semi wild sanctuary where they have huge wild fenced areas to hang out in during the day, trees to climb, tree trunks with hidden treats inside, snacks 3 times a day and quite often painting classes! They also have a night house which in inside where they all go about 6pm after dinner, make their own beds and all cuddle up and sleep. Such a lovely way for these chimps to see out their days after some horrific starts in life. Some were kept as pets and dressed up made to wear clothes and dance, some kept in cages outside hotels and abused through the bars, some had witnessed their whole families get killed by poachers before being saved and brought to the sanctuary. Most of them obviously had developed mental illnesses and some rocked back and forwards when the others were fighting, some didn’t like blonde women and some over groomed themselves and others so that they had huge bald patches.
It was lovely to watch them being cared for by the foundation and we were lucky enough to walk around with one of the keepers as she fed them their 10am snacks of fruit, peppers and onions. I have to say most of the chimps were very polite and raised their hand, like at school, to ask for snacks. Some of them blew raspberries or slapped their chests to try get the attention of the keeper if they felt it was their turn, so cute. She told us all about the different groups of chimps, their names, where they had come from, why they were there and how they match the chimps up to a family group when they rescue one. She also explained about chimp hierarchy and told us who was in charge within each group and what the pecking order was.
I won’t go into detail about every chimp now as there are so many and I still have a lot to write about but you can check in on the website for news, photos of the chimps and information about them and options for sponsoring them if you wish.
In the afternoon we headed to a shopping centre, had a mooch around, some lunch and grabbed a few things from the supermarket for dinner.
Saturday 24th October
We checked out of the guesthouse this morning and grabbed a taxi to Europcar to pick up a hire car for 2 days. I hadn’t planned on driving around Africa so had left mine at home so Nicole was the designated driver and I was navigator.
We were given a little Nissan Micra which just fitted our rucksacks in the boot, we set up the sat nav on Nicole’s phone and off we went into the South African wilderness with just an iPhone sat-naving us via 3G!
We easily made it out of Nelspruit and were soon on the road to Swaziland, our next country on the list! The scenery on the way down to the Swaziland border was totally stunning lush green mountains, vast open plateaus and national parks lining the road full of pine trees.
After a couple of hours we made it to the Swaziland border, carried out normal border formalities, paperwork for car, get that stamped, passport check, get that stamped then drive through a short stint of no-mans land before repeating the process to get into Swaziland.
We then drove through Swaziland to the capital Mbabane where we grabbed some lunch. We couldn’t hang around too long as we weren’t spending the night in Swaziland, just passing through to take in the scenery and we had to get out before the border closed!
In all honesty the scenery didn’t change from what we’d seen on the way down to Swaziland, green mountains, swathes of plains/plateaus and green forests.
We made it to the border crossing in good time, conducted the border formalities and then drove back into South Africa where we spotted some warthogs, baboons and a giraffe right by the border crossing merrily grazing along the side of the dual carriageway which cuts through the middle of a national park. Bizarre!
Why have we been paying for all these safaris when we could just spot the animals from the road!
So back in South Africa we followed the sat nav down to St Lucia. At one point the sat nav said to turn off the main road so instructing Nicole she look aghast when the road in question was a dust truck through a corrugated hut village. Still we followed the sat nav and ended up driving over a railway line and through a forested area on dirt tracks. After about 10 minutes we took the instructed left turn to find ourselves face to face with a barrier and 2 guards at a hut. We explained we needed to go through to get to our hotel in St Lucia and this is the way the sat nav says to go, they then explained we were in a national park and would need to pay an entrance fee to go in and basically conduct a self-guided safari drive! The entrance fee was pretty cheap so we thought why the heck not have an unintentional self-guided safari drive! The only issue was you had to spend a minimum of 90 minutes in the park before you could get out the gate at the other side and there was an enforceable speed limit of funeral procession speed!
We asked the guard if he could put an earlier time on the ticket for us, like 60 minutes earlier…he said he could if we gave him a small gift! So we paid him about £2.50 and got 3pm rather than 4pm put on our ticket!
So we began our unintentional game drive speeding through the park only to stop and spot kudu, rhino, guinea fowl and a baboon!
We made it to the gate bang on 3.30pm…90 minutes after entering!!! Found out the reason we hadn’t seen any elephants in the park is they all made a run at the fence earlier than afternoon knocking it over and 16 elephants escaped and were currently off somewhere roaming…not in the confines of the park! Excellent!
About half an hour later we made it to St Lucia, which is an odd little place. One small main street with supermarkets, some shops and restaurants and a handful of intersecting residential streets with small bungalows on, a few being hotels. We checked into ours and then walked to the main street for dinner and Nicole watched the rugby semi-final, one New Zealander in a sea of Springbok supporters!
Once the All Blacks had won we had to scarper quick!
Sunday 25th October
Today saw us do a loop around St Lucia, we headed off from our hotel in the morning and wandered down to the Isimangaliso wetlands national park and to the wild beaches. We took a quick peek at a couple of the beaches and wandered along the road through the national park, barely passing another pedestrian…everyone was driving! It then dawned us, as we kept hearing rustling in the bushes next to the road where we were walking, that we were walking in a national park and perhaps that’s why everyone drives!
Still we saw a small antelope thing, some baboons and a snake and that was it so luckily weren’t mauled by a leopard! (There are lions and leopards in the national park!)
Lunchtime we headed to Durban in the hire car, dropped the hire car off at the airport and then grabbed a taxi to our beachfront hotel! Luxury in comparison to the places we have been staying through Africa. This was like 5 star luxury and we were staying for 7 nights which was a rarity to be in the same place for more than 1 or 2 nights!
We checked in, chilled out and then grabbed a pizza from the slowest bar in town.
Monday 26th October
Today was total luxury….a day at the shopping centre! So surreal to have spent months travelling Africa, through desert, mountains, safaris and beaches to end up in a huge western shopping centre but needs must! We were both in desperate need of new everything! Most of my clothes are now at least a size to big and swamp me, my trousers look like they were styled by MC Hammer they are so baggy, the fabric on my flip flops has ripped off so they look like I have either robbed a tramp for them or got them from a bin. Anything white was turned a hideous shade of gray during a laundry wash in Rwanda and needed replacing with a new white version!
We strolled round the shops, met up again for lunch then went off again before meeting up to grab a taxi back to the hotel.
Dinner…no not veg curry…ha got you there! Next best thing…carrots and humus.
Tuesday 27th October
Today was a chill day really, we walked through town to Florida Road which is a popular area full of restaurants and hotels. We headed to House of Curries for a traditional Durban curry. Nicole tried the local dish…Bunny Chow which if you don’t know is curry shoved in a hollowed out loaf of bread and you use the bread to eat the curry! Being wheat and gluten intolerant I had to pass on that digestion nightmare and had a trusty veg curry! I will be a connoisseur of veg curry before I finish! Think I must now have tried veg curry in at least 30 countries!
After lunch we popped into Spar, grabbed some essentials and then head back for naps and films.
Wednesday 28th October
Today we wandered along the golden mile promenade, which is a total lie, it’s not a mile it’s about 5! Todays destination was uShaka Marine World, bit of tourist fun and supposed to be a good day out. We watched penguins and turtles at feeding time, wandered around the aquarium and watched the dolphin show before wandering the golden 5 miles back and stopping off a local food hut called Afros Chicken Shop, which sells good chicken and chips in a box on the beach. Well cheap as too!
Thursday 29th October
Today was another random day in the world of travelling…in the morning we headed out to an electrical wholesaler to check out switches and sockets for Nicole’s new build hotel in the Maldives. It was like being at work….the first place the taxi driver took us to was more of a light shop and no good so we finished working and walked to the shopping centre up the road and went to the cinema for 2 for 1 film going…saw The Martian, which was actually pretty good.
Afterwards we found a curry house and had a curry before getting the taxi driver to pick us up and drive us back via a proper electrical wholesaler where again we checked out switches and sockets. Got a quote at least for most of what Nicole wanted, once her business partner checks it all over we may be going back to purchase the list of items, no idea where Nicole will pack them all! Might be a backpacking first…travelling with a rucksack full of light switches and sockets!
Friday 30th October
Another alarm clock start as today we headed to Lesotho, the last of our 15 African countries on this trip.
We were picked up by a guy in a mini bus who looked a bit like the Pie in the Sky/Harry Potter’s uncle actor. He drove us a couple of hours to the tour office where we would pick up a 4×4 with a couple of others and head up through the Sani Pass to Lesotho and lunch at the highest pub in Africa!
The journey through the Sani Pass was stunning, yet more amazingly beautiful scenery. Green mountains, sweeping valleys and a windy dirt track road up to the border of the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.
The journey up took 3 hours or so, with our guide giving us a history lesson of the pass and Lesotho and also a mountain safari where we stopped for some rare flora and fauna only indigenous to the special micro-environment of the Sani Pass.
Upon reaching the border we did the normal..out of South Africa, into Lesotho and then after driving through the black mountains we returned to a small village where we met one of the local women and popped into her house for some homemade bread, a talk on Lesotho and the life and culture of the village nomads and a chance to buy homemade wares.
After a flying visit to the nomads we headed to the highest pub in Africa for lunch which was a mediocre affair of potato salad and 3 different varieties of village sausage. The pub is a very cosy feeling pub though, you could almost be in a village in England. Previous visitors had purchased placards and written messages on them and hung them on the walls, spotted one from the end of last year that Charly Boorman had written when he was doing some Pan-African motorcycle ride.
We took in the view from the pub whilst listening to a child play a local ‘instrument’ then started our descent down and out of Lesotho and back into South Africa.
The drive down was somewhat quicker and we reached the tour office after about a 2.5 hour drive where Pie In the Sky dude was waiting for us to drive us back to Durban.
Arrived back about 7pm and vegged out with carrots and humus!
Saturday 31st October
Nicole and I’s last day together before we split and she flies to Cape Town to complete her journey and I catch a bus to Port Elizabeth to spend 10 days or so taking in some of the Garden Route on my way down to Cape Town
We had a lazy day of packing and sorting before heading out to a cool place called Mooki’s that does Dim Sum. We indulged in a spot of Dim Sum for lunch before heading back to the hotel for a final chill out.
Late afternoon we popped to a local cafe and shared a flatbread and had a cocktail each to congratulate ourselves on our trip and drink to the next one!
The evening was all about the rugby final, we watched it..well Nicole watched it and I ignored it in the comfort of our hotel room so that Nicole could shout at the All Blacks all she liked without the Springbok onlookers!