South Africa Trip – 2009 Click on any photo for a large view.
Our Objective: Lynn and I loved our previous trips to the southern part of the Dark Continent. Our first trip was to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana in 2004. We did 9 days of game drives in some great camps in Zimbabwe like Little Makololo and Little Vumbra Camp in Botswana. We traveled with some wonderful guides. Specifically, we enjoyed viewing and photographing wildlife along the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe with Nigel Robey. Nigel and tracker Kingsley paddled us in our 18 ½ foot canoe through hippo pods while we watched huge elephants grazing on the acacia trees along the banks of the river. In Botswana we met Dux in the luxurious Little Vumbra Camp in the Okavango Delta. Dux lead us to our first African lion sightings and later he surprised us with a visit to a den of hyena cubs which was one of my favorite photography experiences ever. The variety of birds here was amazing. I fell in love with bird photography here and I have looked for opportunities to photograph birds ever since.
Following our game drives we spent 10 days in a self-drive tour of the exotic Cape Town area and its Cape Dutch architecture and friendly people. We both fell in love with Cape Town. We toured the Winelands and took in the intoxicating scenery of the vineyards, the mountains and the wine estates. We vowed to return to Africa soon. Lynn said whenever we go back to Africa we must revisit Cape Town. We also drove to Hermanus and viewed many southern right whales. Our friends did a shark dive at Gansbai while we took a boat ride to photograph the whales and the sea lions on Dyers Island. The seas were incredibly rough. The only photo that I got was that of a whale’s tale! It really wasn't necessary to take a boat ride since you could see all of the whales that you like right from the cliffs along Hermanus. (Click here to see a report and photos from that trip.) In 2007 we traveled to Kenya and spent a week visiting exotic camps like Little Governors, and Sambura Serena. We were thrilled with the huge variety of game that we were able to see in Kenya. In the Masai Mara we saw many cheetahs, lions, hyena and many more exotic species. We even were able to witness a crossing of more than 200 wildebeest across the Mara River. (Click here to see a report and photos from the Kenya trip.)
We looked at many new trip ideas, but our hearts kept telling us that we should go back to South Africa. There was much that we had not seen such as the top of Table Mountain, The Cape of Good Hope, Kirstenbosch Gardens, Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe Park (shlu shlu wee), Durban and the eastern shore of the Indian Ocean. Also, we were excited about visiting the small landlocked Kingdom of Swaziland.
The Trip: On this trip we spent 4 days in the Cape Town area. We stayed in an excellent hotel, the Protea President, which was near the sea. We did a city tour. Honestly, the city tour which we took ourselves in 2004 by riding on the hop-on hop-off bus was better. We spent time shopping and dining in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.
I had purchased a beautiful gold elephant pendant for Lynn on our previous trip. It was lost. Our anniversary was just before this trip. I promised Lynn that I would replace the pendant during our visit to Cape Town as a late anniversary gift. We taxied to Prins & Prins Jewelry where I had purchased the first charm and was thrilled to find Penny Murdock still worked there as a salesperson. The charm that I had bought Lynn earlier was no longer made, but Penny found an equally beautiful elephant pendant which made Lynn very happy.
On the following day we did a day long excursion to the Cape of Good Hope which is the most southwesterly spot on the Africa continent. This trip was more breathtaking than I imagined. We traveled along the magnificent Marine Drive through the quaint waterfront village of Fish Hoek and the wealthy town of Constantia. Surprisingly, along the way we encountered Chacma Baboons, ostriches and eland (the largest of the antelope family). The Cape of Good Hope Natural Reserve is unspoiled. We took the cable car up to the top of the mountain where you can inhale the view of Cape Point from alongside a historic lighthouse. I had heard stories that winds can get as high as 100 miles per hour up here, but
we were greeted with a clear sky and mild breezes.
On the return trip we passed a township (a shanty town) which was adjacent to a development of very expensive homes. We stopped to take photos of an ostrich farm..and we made a potty stop at an arts and crafts store (of course!). Our day’s goal was to get to the top of Table Mountain. Table Mountain is famous for its curtain of clouds that flow down from the top of the mountain. It is this “tablecloth” that shuts down the cable car and makes a visit to the top iffy. We would not be fortunate to climb Table Mountain on this trip. I guess that adventure will be saved for our next trip.
We did get to spend a couple of hours at Kirstenbosch Gardens. That is not enough time. You could easily spend an entire day here just wandering around. It is a beautiful place situated on the eastern slope of Table Mountain. All of the plants here are indigenous and in a natural setting. Additionally, I was surprised to see all of the beautiful Zimbabwean granite sculptures which had been done by famous artists. A return trip to Stellenbosch Gardens goes on my list for a future visit.
The next day was at leisure. We wanted to repeat a visit to the Winelands. Our new friends, Declan and Randy and Vito and Joyce mentioned that they were going to do a private wine tasting tour. If you are serious about wine a private tour is really what you should do. We asked Declan if the group would mind if we joined them. They were gracious and said, absolutely! So, the 6 of us headed out the next day with a recommended guide, Keith D’Arvall. We had a fine guide on our 2004 trip and were concerned that Keith might not live up to our expectations. He was exceptional. He not only had a great appreciation of the wineries, but his knowledge of the area was wonderful as well. The day was stormy. The rivers were swollen. In spite of this we visited three of our favorite wine estates. Velegelegen in Somerset has been there since the 1700s. Today it is owned by the Anglo-America Company (DeBeers Diamonds). The wine is terrific and the Cape Dutch architecture is breathtaking. We have also been able to purchase their wine since we returned from the trip.
We also visited the Waterford Wine Estate which looked like it was right out of Tuscany. We sipped wine in a beautiful parlor with a crackling fire and a pair of Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs basking in front. The wine is also excellent.
Our lunch was at a wonderful restaurant, Terroir. Our server was delightful. On our previous trip we had dined at a much esteemed place called La Petite Ferme. This was equally as good.
Finally, we arrived at a tiny winery called Chamonix. We arrived just at closing time, but the hostess there was kind enough to keep the doors open so that we could taste their wine. The interior was quaint and quite homey. The wine was good.
As Keith drove us away from the Winelands we made a stop in front of Drakensburg Prison to take a photo of the Mandela Statue which was there. Mr. Mandela had spent some time there during his 27 years of imprisonment as a result of his anti-apartheid activism.
The next morning we boarded a plane at South Africa’s 2nd largest airport Cape Town International Airport for a short flight (approximately 365 miles) to Durban on South Africa’s east coast. From Durban the remainder of our trip would be in a motor coach.
Durban is a large city which is a melting pot of many poor people mostly from African countries who had left due to political, ethnic or religious reasons. We drove through the cities along the beach areas. We didn’t feel like we would be safe there. Perhaps we didn’t see enough of Durban to cast judgment, but I don’t think that we would return here for a vacation! Refining sugar is big business here and huge sugar refineries are within the city.
As we continued north along the Indian Ocean the view changed. We passed beautiful homes and stopped at a wonderful sandy beach where we all got out of the bus and got our feet wet in the Indian Ocean.
We drove through farm land and some small towns with strip shopping centers similar to those in the U.S. Then, we veered northwest toward our lodging near the Hluhluwe-Umfolzi Game Reserve.
Our next day was comprised of game drives (See the Hluhluwe link). Hluhluwe is the oldest game park on the Africa continent (1895). It is located in KwaZulu-Natal. It boasts all of the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo). We didn’t see all of them here. Our most rewarding experience here was our first ever daylight sighting of white rhinos. The vegetation was still high from summer making it more difficult to spot game than we had been used to on our previous game drives.
Later that day we visited Damazulu the Zulu village where we watched warriors dance, little Zulu kids at play and bare breasted women (unmarried) joining in the antics. (Note – The semi nude photos are not posted on this site.) We were served an excellent lunch by the Zulu women in the village.
Some of us did a second afternoon game drive before sunset and the Hluhluwe Park’s closing at 6 PM.
The next morning we crossed the border from South Africa into the Kingdom of Swaziland where we were required to show passports. We spent the day traveling through the countryside and spent the night at Piggs Peak Hotel which was just a short drive until we were back in South Africa. This is where our adventure to Kruger National park begins. Our lodging was at the Kruger Gate Lodge which is just across the river from Kruger National Park.
We experienced two days of game drives here which were a highlight of our trip. Ever since I have heard about safari adventures Kruger was almost always mentioned. This park is immense. It is the size of Wales or a moderate sized US State. There are all kinds of terrain from wet to desert. Most game drives take place in the southern part of the Park as ours did. You could spend a lot of time in Kruger. A friend of mine spent several weeks in Kruger alone on a self-drive and was thrilled with the experience.
Kruger is unique in that in addition to dirt trails there are many paved roads. It amazed me how many people were on self-drives there. Many people travel Kruger Park in 2 wheel drive autos. I recommend a 4 wheel drive vehicle that is high enough to see over the vegetation.
I was also intrigued by the vast number of facilities that were available in the Park including lodging of all types, fuel, restaurants, and shops. I could imagine doing a self-drive here. I would book lodging well in advance!
Our game experience was good here as well. Once again we saw many white rhinos, elephants, thousands of impala, buffalo, warthogs, zebras, baboons, vervet monkeys, wildebeest, hippos, giraffes, crocodiles and an endless variety of birds. Our lion sighting was limited to two sleeping females…certainly not photographic material!
I was sad to leave Kruger. Our hotel was top notch. Our game drives were enjoyable just not long enough.
The following morning we boarded our motor coach for the long 300 mile drive to Sandton (a beautiful suburb of Johannesburg). The trip was delightful. We stopped at Bourke’s Luck Pot Holes which are part of Blyde River Canyon. This is a treasure for photographers. The jagged rock formations are caused by powerful erosion from the River. We also stopped for the view from God’s Window. You could see for hundreds of miles across this magnificent area. Additionally, the elevation here in the Drakensburg Mountains is more than 6,000 feet.
We continued on to Pilgrim’s Rest, a gold mining town which has been restored to its original look. The buildings are all of corrugated metal. Today the town offers restaurants, shops selling local arts and crafts and South African wine. We had a great sandwich at The Stables Restaurant.
We arrived in Sandton which was to be our home for the next two nights. We toured Johannesburg, a city built on top of gold mines. We toured Soweto, a city of almost 2 million within the city. The population number really doesn’t mean much though since thousands of illegal aliens have failed to report themselves as part of the 2001 Census.
Soweto was a big surprise to us since our first trip here in 2004. At that time, virtually all of Soweto was comprised of squatter shacks with little or no facilities. Today, tremendous construction projects are underway to bring housing and facilities to the area’s indigents. A billboard reads “2.7 million houses in 14 years. 13 million people in subsidized houses.” Many attractive new housing developments have replaced the shacks. We visited Nelson Mandela’s early home where he lived with Winnie Mandela and his family.
We left O.R. Tambo International Airport the following morning with just a few words… “We’ll be back.”
Copyright – Dave Hutchinson