Sleeping with the hippos in Kruger, South Africa
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Sleeping with the hippos in Kruger, South Africa
Overnight flights are not the best if you have things to do the next day, you don't get much sleep especially when the mass of Chinese passengers on the flight decide to stay awake talking, overall we found the Chinese very cold and didn't seem to consider others around them, we were definitely glad to be leaving Hong Kong. The flight landed at 7am in Johannesburg and we took a taxi straight to the hotel which I had booked for 3 nights, this was the time I'd allowed to pick up our Landcrusier which we had purchased, it is a fully prepared overland vehicle and would be our home and transport for the next 5 months. Once settled into the hotel I headed out to Bushlore (the company we had bought it from) and ended up spending the whole day their going through the vehicle, putting up tents and generally getting a good understanding of all the supplied inventory. The vehicle came supplied with a big inventory including 2 roof tents, a ground tent and full kitchen for 5 along with camping chairs, table, sleeping bags and pillows. We really needed the 3 days in Jo'burg to get ready with the insurance getting sorted soon before leaving. Johannesburg has a bad reputation and I had been here around 10 years ago with work and is one of the few places in the world where I don't feel safe, the family were to stay put in the hotel for 3 days whilst I sorted out the car and whizzed round the camping and 4x4 shops to buy whatever I felt was necessary that was missing from the vehicle.
With great relief we leave Johannesburg on the 4th day heading for our first stop the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Institute and time to remind the kids about the rehabilitation centre we saw in Borneo a few weeks earlier and the connection of that founder to Jane Goodall. Although chimpanzees and orangutans are both primates and share 98.8% and 97% of our human DNA respectively, they are very different. Orangutans are graceful and gentle whilst the chimpanzees are more active and aggressive and we saw this first hand, whilst on the tour some of the chimpanzee would throw stones or pieces of wood at us, which made the kids duck for cover sharply. We all loved the tour and couldn't believe that the chimpanzees have the equivalent mental age of a 6 year old human which was Lucas age, but they listen to commands and with sign requested the types of food they wanted, again it was sad to hear how the chimpanzee came here, most of them pets treated poorly and abused.
Our first camp was Hazyview, we arrived in South Africa in the middle of Easter holidays and decided last year to book the first 2 weeks accommodation since most campsites would be booked. South Africa is approaching winter so we didn't expect it to be so hot, South Africa is in the middle of a drought and the heat has not relented with temperatures into the high 30s, this made camping a very sweaty experience, especially at night in the tent and soon realised the importance of finding a shady spot to pitch up. We seemed very disorganised in Hazyview and the next day we had planned to visit Blyde Canyon but instead stayed at the camp sorting out the back of the vehicle and understanding what our routine should be and how do we access our frequently used items. With the hot humid temperature it bought on severe nose bleeds with Arabella lasting for over half an hour at a time, serious bleeding trying to clot, this happened night after night and was quiet concerning. Along with this myself, Edwina and Arabella all had some sort of bug which bought on a high temperature and nausea not the best when just trying to find our feet. Both myself and Edwina found these few days very stressful and probably took some of this out on the kids, but they coped brilliantly and shrugged off the times when we were short with them. After Asia and Australia we found the South Africans to be very friendly and welcoming. The kids made friends at camp, running around like wild children with water pistols, others kindly sharing their bikes with ours, screaming and yelling just enjoying being kids, visiting each other's tents, building fires to cook marshmallows, it was especially good for Luca who made the most of the boys in the campsite playing footy and just boys being boys. A lot of the children's parents were fantastic at giving out friendly advice for our trip ahead, we really valued the reassurance and opinions that we have taken on board.
The next day we had booked a trip on the Skytrail, it's a series of 8 zip lines travelling above the tree line and through the trees. We weren't sure whether Maddalena would go as she expressed doubts even last year when I had booked it and on numerous occasions on the trip quizzed me on the height and speed, as we approached the first zip line it was high and long, Edwina was nervous but didn't want to display her fear in front of Maddalena and Edwina shoots down the line, eventually we all make it, Maddalena shows no sign of any fear and made us both very proud of how she handled the situation. All the kids thoroughly enjoyed zipping down the lines, looking out for wildlife and trying to avoid the tops of tress hitting their legs, not something I was that good at coming out with cuts and scrapes . After we went out for pizza as a treat and we were joined by another family who went on the Skytrail tour with us a South African couple and child who had moved back form the UK a year ago, again we loved the relaxed approach and discussion, handing out handy tips, and discovering the drink Rock Shandy for when you're really parched, it was a really nice way to spend a few hours. Hazyview was a bit of a stop gap and proper chance to find our feet, familiarise ourselves with our new living arrangements, and for Edwina to do laundry, on the last night we lay in our roof tents excited about the prospect of visiting Kruger National Park.
The next day we packed up camp, I have been struggling with the effort of camping, I love camping and the roof tents are very easy to set up as all the bedding stays inside, but every time we want to use the car with 2 roof tents it can take 30 mins to close down (I'm sure this time will drop the more we use) and a pain if you just want to pop down to the shops, so we quickly learn that the roof tents should go down just before bed in case we need the car. This morning was the best so far and we are definitely getting the hang of it and it takes us around an hour to get ready as we also have a ground tent. For the roof tents Edwina climbs on the top of the Landcruiser and assists with the lowering of the roof tents, packing and putting the covers on. We stop off at the mall to get flip flops for the kids, a local sim for my phone and some supplies from the supermarket, we make Paul Kruger gate for around lunchtime and decided to stop in the first camp Skukuza, Edwina stays behind to make ham sandwiches whilst I go into the camp with the kids to look for coffee and ice creams, we can't believe the setup here there was a large shop which had everything you need from a grocery POV along with souvenirs, beer and wine. They had a take away counter and restaurant with views over the river below where wildlife could be spotted, at the moment the exchange rate is really good at 22 rand to the Pound and lunch could be bought for all five for under £10, with the cost of food similar in the supermarket it hardly makes economic sense to cook although having a Braai (South African BBQ) whilst camping under the stars is a magical experience, you can see the milky way clearly overhead and the kids get to cook marshmallows for dessert.
After lunch we head for our camp for the next 2 nights Satara. We are all blown away by the amount of wildlife we see on the way impala, herds of elephants close to the road, giraffe, buffalo, warthogs, kudu, lions and zebras. Finding it in your own car makes the whole experience more special. We settle into camp, pitching ourselves next to some avid game viewer regulars who are full of enthusiasm for the wildlife. With relief that there are not mosquitos in the evening we head to the camp restaurant for dinner via the outdoor movie about Lions but the amazing vista of the stars showing the most spectacular view of the Southern Cross and Milky Way stole the show for me and the kids, the lions can wait till we see them for real in the morning I'm hoping!
The next day we booked a sunrise drive in a jeep, up at 4am we head out in the dark with spotlights shinning into the bush to spot wildlife the kids are full of enthusiasm, we spot giraffe, impala and elephant before heading down to an area where a leopard was spotted, unfortunately it doesn't make a showing. We then proceed along the road to a site where a rhino had been poached, the area was surround by Hyenas and vultures all trying to get breakfast. Although the officials at Kruger police the area, the area is large and poachers are unfortunately still present, around 3 rhinos a day are poached in Kruger with the horn worth $60,000 US dollars per kilo, it's a sad state but with the value so high no fine or prison sentence is enough to deter it. Once a rhino has been poached the rangers cut the flesh open to allow the creatures to eat the meat, the rangers only interfere if the rhino is poached. We carry on and get to spend around 20 mins with a pride of lions before heading back to camp. School holidays is still on and the kids play with a couple of girls the same age they met on the sunrise tour and we all head to the swimming pool where the kids run around in circles to make a whirlpool in the water, mind you I didn't get off lightly most of the dads were in the pool also having to help whip it up. Refreshed we decide to head up to Olifants for lunch, they don't offer camping but the restaurant has a fantastic view of the valley with a river below, it seems Mugg and Bean have a monopoly on the restaurants and it's the same menu as last night, the food is like a franchise pub food in England certainly somewhere we can't eat often. The highlight came when the monkeys came to visit with one monkey stealing Luca chicken burger that he didn't want. We get back into the car and head back to Satara spotting elephant, giraffe, zebra, black rhino and the highlight was a rare sighting of a cheetah such an unbelievable experience and such a stunning creature. The kids were really excited about the spot but so was Edwina who was trying to squeeze into the best position for a photo she wasn't taking into account who she was sitting on or how she got the photo, with yelps from the kids I could tell mum was in the photographic mode. We struck a problem at this point with the car, all within stinking distance of the Cheetah, the landcruiser decides to start making a strange screeching noise from the front right, it's probably enough to scare off any wildlife surrounding us. I being unsure of the etiquette get out of the vehicle to have a look, the last thing I want is to make things worse by having a wheel fall off or something. Screams for the car follow in unison the kids scream "Dad, get in the car", Edwina yelling "Maz, what in the hell do you think you're doing", I quickly jump in before anything gets a sniff of me and proceed to drive the car, 20 mins later the noise stops, hopefully nothing serious and we head back to camp and enjoy pizza before our night drive. In hind sight booking a sunrise tour and night tour in the same day wasn't a great idea, 10 mins out of camp and the kids fall asleep, tired Edwina really struggling carries on holding the spotlight looking for game, it wasn't a great drive but we did spot hyenas and hippo whilst the kids all curled up on their seats didn't see a thing.
Next day we pack up early and head down the road, our destination is Lower Sabie camp. Since getting to Kruger we have been playing a game to get the kids interested on our safari drive, you pick 5 animals you want to see and whoever sees them first wins, I had heard it was possible in Kruger to see the big 5 in one day so I thought I would test this theory out and made the big 5 mine for the day, Arabella also choose the big 5 and told me we could team up in spotting wildlife. Out of camp around 20 mins in we see a Lion crossing the road, a further 1 hour and we spot a leopard resting in the tree it's a big WOW for all of us and once again Edwina scrambles for the best photographic position within the vehicle not giving a damn who is in the way. It's not even 10am and we pull into a picnic area with 3 down, amazing! The picnic area is not fenced like the camp sites and 100m before reaching it we spot a hyena so the kids are a bit nervous getting out of the car, there are plenty of people here hiring braais and cooking bacon and egg for breakfast, jealous we decide to keep moving to Skukuza to have lunch. On the drive to Lower Sabie we spot a buffalo and now Arabella is desperate to see a rhino and looks out of the window intently, unfortunately we didn't see a rhino but seeing the big 5 in 2 days isn't that bad.
Arriving at Lower Sabie I had a surprise for us all instead of booking a campsite I had booked the guest house with a fantastic view over the river and wildlife within. We were all feeling tired and as we drove past the campsite the uncertainty and excitement grew, pulling into the guest house the kids give a big cheer, the house seems big and has AC, kitchen and an amazing view, I didn't realise when I booked it but this rest bite from camping was needed and was a true morale booster for me. That evening we decided to have our first meat braai and have hippos and crocs as our neighbours below our electric fence, we really were sleeping with the hippos.
The next day we wake up sipping coffee in our PJs outside, viewing a herd of elephants walking past the guest house, we spend the day watching buffalo and hippo from our garden a truly memorable, totally relaxing day, a really great way to recharge. We made the most of the house and spent the day there and had a braai for lunch which Arabella persisted with and managed to light with her flint and steel (she was so proud). We only left for a swim in the pool and a sunset drive where we spot Giraffe, Buffalo, elephant, rhino, zebra and Maddalena was most proud of spotting and genet cat in the tree in the dark with a spotlight, we learn to spot the difference between a female and male giraffe (male has thicker horns) and also how to tell the difference between a black and white rhino (rhino has a wide mouth and longer snout with pointy ears as opposed to the black rhinos round ears).
The next day and our destination is Berg en dal, our last night in Kruger, we head out of camp late at around 10am, the animals are most active at sunrise and sunset so we didn't spot much wildlife only some hippos and a rhino enjoying a waterhole where we had lunch in the hide. We arrived at Berg en dal early afternoon and we go straight to the swimming pool to cool off. The kids have been missing their home comforts and ask for pasta tonight which Edwina cooks up at camp.
The next day we decide to go for an early morning drive before we leave Kruger and are not disappointed at the wildlife, we spot a pride of lions, rhino, elephant, buffalo, zebra and giraffe. Unfortunately it's time to leave Kruger we all got hooked on spotting wildlife, I understand how some people don't like Kruger as it doesn't deliver the true bush experience but for the abundance of wildlife and top facilities it makes for a fantastic family holiday. We exit the gate and head for Badplass forever resort 3 hours away where we will base ourselves for the next 3 nights, school holidays are still on and the kids get to meet at play with new friends again. Badplass is an amazing resort with a number of swimming pools and hydro slides, we pretty much spend the whole time in the swimming area, it's now time to head south via Jo'burg to stop at Bushlore to replace some locks on the car. We all looking forward to the Garden Route.