Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

Stories from South Africa, May 2013

 

This collection is work in progress — as new blog entries are published, the list would be updated. Please revisit, thanks!

Blog #1:  Johannesburg Arrival and Nelson Mandela

Blog #2:  Johannesburg to Kruger National Park by Road

Blog #3:  Our Safari Lodge in the Kruger Bush

Blog #4:  Leopards in Kruger National Park

Blog #5:  Kruger Safari – a Pride of Lions, a Herd of Elephants

Blog #6:  Kruger Safari – a Crash of Rhinos

Blog #7:  Kruger Departure and Return to Johannesburg

Blog #8:  Brilliant Bo-Kaap of Cape Town

Blog #9:  Cape Town to Cape Point via Chapman’s Peak

Blog #10:  …

 

 

 

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Cape Town to Cape Point via Chapman’s Peak

South Africa > Chapman’s Peak

18 May 2013

Today we decide to get out of Cape Town and go south, to Cape Point where the Cape of Good Hope is. Confused by  the two capes? Fret not, it’d become clearer as the story goes. So just 20km south from our Cape Town hotel, we find ourselves in the very scenic Hout Bay.

Hout Bay is still regarded as a coastal suburb of Cape Town — 55% of the population are whites, it has the feel of a modern tourist town — a place where people are jogging, bike-riding, surfing and fishing.

This is our set of wheels for the day — a manual Nissan Micra 1.2. Quite pleasant to drive with just the two of us, and very economical too. When traveling I’d always rent a manual car, to refresh my manual skills, hahaha! Not to mention cheaper than auto cars too.

This is our route to Cape Point, a distance of 75km, skirting the Atlantic Ocean to our right as we drive southwards. We are using the Chapman’s Peak Drive route, which is reputed to be one of the best coastal drives in the world. Having driven such routes in places like Canada, NZ, Australia, Ireland and Spain, it’s only natural I should try this one out as well.

We are now at Chapman’s Peak Drive proper, and a what a splendid view of Hout Bay.

Quite a long stop we have here, admiring the beautiful landscape in the cool morning, especially The Sentinel, the sharp hill at the cape.

Joggers enjoy their morning run along the Chapman Peak’s Drive. Too many of them, bike-riders too. Maybe because this is a Saturday morning.

Looking further south, we can see the road hugging the huge cliffs.

To the right, a straight drop into the Atlantic. The road was built 1915-1922, a major engineering feat at that time. That’s about the same period the much longer, equally spectacular Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia, was constructed. Interesting coincidence.

As we leisurely drive away along the road, we keep glancing back at the very beautiful Hout Bay! Further up, there’s a small toll plaza collecting a fee of 33 rands — worth every single rand of it, for this scenic route.

The cliff face is virtually vertical at some spots, with another long vertical drop into the ocean, that they had to build this structure to shelter from rock falls.

Sheer hacking of the rocky cliff, to make way for the road — haven’t seen this type of ‘awning’ before in all my drives.

The coastal road actually works its way around Chapman’s Peak, and once we are clear of it, we come to Noordhoek, meaning ‘North Corner’ in Dutch. It is well-known for its beautiful stretch of sandy beach.

At the far end of this long beach, almost 4km long, we see the town of Kommetjie with its famous lighthouse.

At Noordhoek beach, people are riding horses, walking dogs and surfing, a testament to the prosperity of this town. Incidentally the population comprises more than 90% whites, virtually all of them English-speaking. So we can assume this place was founded by the settlers from England.

Spend some time in the Cape Town area, and one can discern the leisure lifestyle of the whites — bike riding, horse riding, jogging, and of course surfing. Very similar to their counterparts in Australia, just across the Indian Ocean.

A vista of Noordhoek, as we drive down the hill into town.

It’s a very leafy place, and looks like a really pleasant spot to live.

We drive past Noordhoek and at Kommetjie, we just have to stop to admire the lighthouse.

The Slangkop Lighthouse, operational since 1914, it’s 33m high — also the tallest cast iron lighthouse in South Africa. I have climbed a cast iron lighthouse once — a Dutch-built one at Anyer in West Java, 75.5m tall, constructed to replace an older one destroyed by the tsunami due to the Krakatau eruption of 1883.

We push on southwards as the sun gets higher in the sky. The plan is to arrive at Cape Point at noon just in time for lunch.

Occasionally we spot groups of people, normally blacks, walking along this desolate road. They carry bags and stuff, so I’m not sure that they are up to.  Maybe on the lookout for taxi-vans to take them somewhere? Some try to hitch a ride, but we have to ignore.

It’s a very nice, scenic drive with the Atlantic following us all the way. Ahead we spot a misty area.

And yes, this place is called Misty Cliffs — I suppose the huge rocks down at the beach are breaking the rough Atlantic surfs, causing water sprays to form mist. I just can’t imagine how this place would be like in really bad weather. Totally exposed to the Atlantic Ocean.

Passing through Scarborough, not as hectic as its Yorkshire counterpart.

Soon the road goes inland, as it cuts across Cape Peninsula to get to the other coastal side (see map above).

We approach the Cape Point Nature Reserve, which is the huge area to the right.

Soon a T-junction, and here we take right to enter the Cape Point Nature Reserve.

The first impression upon entering the reserve is how spacious the whole place seems to be.

Devoid of crowds and cars and stuff, it’s surreal — like we are the only living things in this natural world.

The road ends here, and there it is — the famous Cape of Good Hope, finally!

The place where the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet, a very tempestous point, dreaded by seafarers since time immemorial. Straight ahead, Antarctica, some 4000km away — I’ll get there too, one day!

> THE END

Brilliant Bo-Kaap of Cape Town

South Africa > Cape Town

May 2013

 

Dawn, and we are back at Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport to catch the first flight out to Cape Town. That’s one reason we chose a hotel just 10min away, with free shuttle too.

Self-service check-in is always welcomed. Fast and convenient, yet I see people still reluctant to use it, wherever in the world we travel.

One of the thrills of travelling to new places is … to try out new airlines — this time it’s Kulula Air’s turn.

Bag drop is harmless. Recently in Norway I found self-service bag drop – I think that should be the way after self check-in.

Airside, and we grab a quick wholesome brekky at this gaudy outlet.

Ready to depart … see how fun Kulula planes are.

It’s daybreak as we roll to the runway. Always beautiful sunrises and sunsets here so far.

As the golden ray of sunlight bathes us, we are airborne in the cold winter morning. It’s a 2-hour flight to Cape Town — the weather looks good says the captain, though Cape Town could be foggy — but the fog should still be okay for us to land, he assures.

Interesting cloud formation, or could that be fog on the ground?

Now this is clearly fog — see it hugging the ground.

As we get closer to Cape Town, the landscape gets rugged — this must be the western part of the Great Escarpment of South Africa.

On finals for Cape Town airport and we can see the thick fog on the ground. In the distance that’s the Twelve Apostles Range and extreme right, a bit of the famous Table Mountain. Beyond those mountains the Atlantic Ocean. Soon we enter the fog and it is total white-out until we are close to the ground. Visibility is about one km, the pilot says, but not a problem.

Back on the ground, out of the terminal, and we find our cab as the fog clears a bit. This Cape Town CPT airport is 2nd busiest in South Africa after Jo’burg JNB.

The airport is only 20km from downtown Cape Town, and with modern expressways along the way, we are soon at our hotel.

We are staying at the Cape Town Lodge Hotel, which is along Buitengracht St, a major leafy thoroughfare in downtown. Another reason we choose this place is because the famed Bo-Kaap area is just across the street, up the hill.

Strolling uphill into Bo-Kaap, we spot an apparel shop which seems to be selling biryani as well — so an early lunch it is then. A very nice Cape Malay lady serves us some tasty local chicken biryani. But I still think it’s odd, a food shop and clothes shop in one — won’t the biryani odour stick to her beautiful dresses?

Now we are getting somewhere — the colourful old houses of the Cape Malays of Bo-Kaap I’ve seen so much on telly! There’s a museum over there, so we saunter over to educate ourselves first. It’s still cold and foggy with the occasional drizzle anyway, so it’s good to be indoor.

We mingle with some schoolkids on an excursion. Pretty informative stuff on display — seems the Cape Malay community is on a major project to document and preserve their long and fascinating heritage, before it’s lost.

Surprisingly Islam has been here for more than 300 years, when settlers were brought over from present-day Indonesia by the Dutch colonialists. The Cape Malays have virtually nothing to do with Malaysia, although many Malaysian Malays would like to think that these Bo-Kaap people are their long-lost brethren!

The Cape Malays arrived as slaves, mainly from the islands of Java and Celebes, in the 17th-18th century. There’s even a place called Macassar (Makasar) just southeast of Cape Town.

Bo-Kaap grew to become a centre of Islam in South Africa.

And the Muslims really built mosques, many of them, and pretty ones too.

You can easily count 10 mosques on this map alone. The first mosque – Auwal – was built in 1798 during the British rule.

We start our Bo-Kaap stroll. The Malay slaves, when freed, decided to paint their houses in such bright and bold colours to express their extreme joy at being liberated. This street goes up Signal Hill, now hidden by the fog.

A Cape Malay cat if you ever saw one, on a miserably cold, foggy morning.

Bo-Kaap was formerly known as the Malay Quarter (again, nothing to do with Malaysia), founded in the 17th century. Some of the houses here are still the original ones. This is Wale St.

Further up Chiapinni St, the Shafee Mosque, from 1847.

Another view of Chiapinni St. The original Cape Malays arrived in the 16th and 17th century, when the Dutch ruled what are now South Africa and Indonesia.

These are ancient houses, made more spectacular by the sloping streets and the narrow cobblestone roads.

The streets are arranged in a grid, so it’s quite fun exploring them and discovering all sorts of gaudy colours.

The community is tightly-knit, but under threat from outsiders who are buying these beautiful properties due to its attractiveness and location.

I like this staircase-to-the-front-door design.

Of course there are the odd ones requiring a fresh coat of paint.

The Shafee Mosque, at the junction of Chiapinni St and Church St, built 1847.

I guess in summer those plants would flower, making the whole set up even more colourful.

Around the corner from Shafee Mosque, down Longmarket St, we stumble upon the beautiful green Boorhanool Islam Mosque, from 1884.

What a pleasant old quarter of Cape Town this is, to stroll and to discover … if only the weather is a bit better. There should be Signal Hill back there.

We complete our circuit of Bo-Kaap and take a long walk to the Waterfront area, another exciting icon of Cape Town, South Africa.

 

> THE END

 

Kruger Departure and Return to Johannesburg

South Africa > Johannesburg

15 May 2013

Alas, time to leave when we thought we were just warming up! What a memorable stay here at Africa on Foot Lodge, just a brief three days, but all good things must come to an end, as the cliché goes.

Well, at least we are happy that in such a short stay, we managed to get the Big Five of African safari — Leopard, Rhinoceros, Lion, Elephant, Buffalo. Thanks to rangers Matt and Enoch for all their efforts.

Enoch drives us out of the reserve, out of Kruger National Park, back to the pub near Hoedspruit where we were dropped off a couple of days back.

And as a parting gift, just before exiting Kruger via the Timbavati Gate, a herd of zebras suddenly appear from the thick bush, or to be correct, a ‘zeal of zebras’.

Just like the male giraffe which welcomed us as we entered Kruger two days ago, this beautiful zebra is saying good-bye to us now … how sweet.

Our van to Jo’burg is at the rendezvous pub right on the dot to collect us, and stops in Hoedspruit centre to pick up more travellers.

Retracing our  previous route, we soon pass the citrus territory at the foot of the majestic Drakensberg.

I always love road trips in a foreign land, simply because one can get closer to the country on these journeys. It could be time-consuming and tiring but it’s always worthwhile.

Negotiating the pass through the northern end of the Drakensburg as we make our way south.

Very ancient geology, but spectacular landscape nevertheless.

After the pass, the fertile plains are dotted with villages.

Autumn is defintely here in the ‘bushveld’ — it’s now early winter they say.

Driving through the town of Belfast, much better-looking than the other more-famous Belfast, which we visited in 2005.

That about sums up this fascinating country!

Sometimes I feel like driving in Australia — especially in some parts of South and Western Australia.

Indeed so much similarity to Australia, an equally ancient land from the Gondwanaland period.

They call this the ‘bushveld’ region — a subtropical bushland, dry savanna-like.

The welcoming sight of very green Dullstroom, famous for fly-fishing expecially trouts.

In all my travels, I have never seen such a generous speed limit for a 2-lane country road. In most countries even modern dual carriageways stop at 110. Imagine a head-on collision between two cars here, each hurtling down the road at 120 km/h!

In these highlands it gets a bit greener thanks to more precipitation.

Down in the plains, it’s drier and maize seems to be the crop of choice.

Maize harvesting in progress — in 2009, South Africa is world’s 9th largest producer.  It’s used as staple food and also animal feed.

Along the modern dual N4 carriageway, we stop at a modern rest area with excellent amenities, not to mention armed guards.

Our transport from Hoedspruit to Jo’burg — a very comfortable and incredibly clean van, and driver Gert is extra-polite! Baggage are stowed in the trailer.

The amenities inside the rest area are very commendable.

And one whole wall is dedicated to this part of South Africa — we are aptly impressed.

Behind the big building, the plain stretches as far as the eyes can see, but there’s something more interesting nearby.

It’s a mini safari park. Where else can you find zebras and buffaloes in your backyard?

And the ubiquitous impalas, obviously safe from predators here.

A short break at the rest area, and soon we are passing by the power generation zone again, just east of Jo’burg. Better view this time due to lack of smog. Six cooling towers, this is huge.

We arrive at our hotel, the same one we stayed at before, just next to Jo’burg OR Tambo Airport, some six hours after leaving Hoedspruit. A quick dinner and we are soon in bed — we have to catch an early 6.30am flight to Cape Town tomorrow morning. That’s always fun!

 

> THE END

 

Kruger Safari – a Crash of Rhinos

South Africa > Kruger National Park

13-15 May 2013

Daybreak and what we do at Africa on Foot Lodge is a 3-hour morning walk in the bush. Wake up before the sun is up, have some bread with coffee or tea, and we are ready. Proper breakfast is only served when we return at 9am.

A walk in the habitat of the wild animals always requires some sort of protocols, apart from the obvious firepower carried by Matt and Enoch. Basically we have to obey the rangers’ instructions at all times, pay attention to them, walk in single file, do not talk, do not make any noise, only take pictures without flash, and most importantly, whatever the circumstances NEVER EVER RUN, but must be ready to climb a tree at any time … how reassuring!

The sun rises through the bush as we start our walk in the pleasantly cool weather.

Matt and Enoch are at the head of the single file, while I bring the rear. In emergency one of them would dash to the rear of the line to lead us to safety … or maybe to some trees to climb? 😀

But in any case, it is quite an interesting walk — the pace is moderate, so you need to be reasonably fit, the terrain rather flat and there are numerous walk paths to tread on. Only occasionally we need to walk through the undergrowth, so good boots are  handy. Matt would stop at any interesting flora or fauna to describe what we are seeing — very educational in a fun way.

Lotsa of this stuff all over the place which shows how rich the fauna is in this reserve.

Almost walked into this bugger’s home, phew!

Walking along the jeep path is harmless — it also provides an easy way to observe footprints of the creatures.

This belongs to a leopard, a couple of days old perhaps.

Good-looking berries just beside the path, and we are told these are edible.

So I take a chomp …. not bad, a bit sour, but I like it.

Once in a while we bump into a jeep on a morning drive. These folks are from a neighbouring lodge. That’s one mean machine — a Land Rover Defender just like ours.

They built dams across the reserve to collect water during the wet summer season. It’s now early winter, so it’s a bit dry, but dams like this provide valuable water for the animals, though there’s none here now.

Elephant droppings everywhere and these do not look that old, so they could have been around here last night.

Impalas are everywhere — graceful animals but there are just too many of them. We call them the McDonald’s of the bush, since they provide fast food for everybody else, sort of. 🙂

The southern yellow-billed hornbill is also ubiquitous in Kruger.

More fresh tracks to interpret for sure. These are elephant’s — quite recent.

Really damning (fresh) clues — those elephants must have passed this way just a few hours ago. By the way, their droppings do not seem to smell at all, which is good. Matt pokes his forefinger into it, invites me to do the same, but I decline — need to operate the camera, sir.

That’s one great single file. I’m at the end of the line, always left behind because too busy taking pictures.

Suddenly we are told to crouch and remain silent — Enoch spots a herd of elephants, maybe the ones which left the above poo.

We can surely hear them in the bush and spot the odd trunks and ears,  but we are not going any closer. Enoch moves to the back of the line while Matt discreetly leads us away. Without the safety of the jeep, I really feel exposed for the first time … and there are no friggin’ trees nearby in case we need to activate Plan B!

Safely away from the elephants, we take a breather, and walk back to the lodge for a well-deserved breakfast. The sun is high and it’s getting warm, so we look forward to the journey home. We must have walked 7 to 8km.

After breakfast, we take a rest till noon when we do a light lunch. At 3.30pm we go on our afternoon/evening drive. We will only return to the lodge just before dinner at 8pm. That’s one long outing.

Enoch spots something interesting — the fresh tracks of an African python — by the look of it, it’s quite a large critter. Unfortunately we couldn’t find it anywhere nearby.

More female impalas — more food for the lions and the leopards. Mobile McDonald’s indeed.

We bump into our neighbours again. Such a huge reserve and keep running into them!

Nearby a handsome male impala eyeballs us. Soon he dashes off to join the ladies.

The communication radio suddenly becomes lively and Matt drives offroad into the bush. Something must be cooking!

Ah well, what can I say … a crash of rhinos! Well five of them white rhinos.

Not the biggest guy in the herd, but still huge and intimidating.

This is the chief, I think. Bad eyesight, so probably can’t notice us, but look at those ears — they are for super-hearing.

They graze just like cows, but are more active. They would chase each other, make noise, do mock fights by jousting with their horns, but would always return to grazing.

Another African species is the black rhino — main difference is black rhinos eat tree leaves not grass. Rhinos have bad eyesight but excellent hearing and smelling capabilities.

Regardless of what is around us, Enoch always looks comfy on his spotter’s seat at the front of the jeep’s bonnet.

The whole crash (or herd) keeps moving as they search for better stuff to eat — how could people kill these magnificent creatures for their horns? We feel so privileged to be able to see them now, in their habitat.

Rhinos done, we resume with our drive.

The rangers spot some fresh leopard tracks, so we are hopeful.

No luck with the leopards, the sun is almost gone, as we find a nice spot for our sundowner.

Truly a magnificent machine — this modified Land Rover Defender can go virtually anywhere.

And I just can’t resist the spotter’s seat which I have seen for so many times on telly. Sit on safari tracker’s seat — DONE!

Suddenly Enoch senses leopards nearby so he sets off trying to track them. Amazing man!

The sun finally gives a fiery grand show over the South African bush, Enoch comes back empty-handed, but we soon we get to stalk our prized query — the leopards (read HERE)!

 

> THE END

 

Kruger Safari – a Pride of Lions, a Herd of Elephants

South Africa > Kruger National Park

13 May 2013

Check-in formality at Africa on Foot done, and lunch too, so we head out for our first ever safari outing — a late afternoon drive, sundowner (coke for us) and an evening drive before dinner. We just don’t know what to expect.

Even in death, it is majestically gnarled.

My first ever vulture sighting — an African white-backed — looking forlorn in the low sun.

We push further into the bush, as the communication radio crackles with messages from other jeeps — the rangers share information on animal sightings, so it’s really a collective effort nailing these elusive creatures.

Suddenly a brief stop — apparently a pride of lions has been spotted at a nearby dam, and we have to wait for our turn to approach them — it’s not good to have too many visitors around.

Just around the bend, through some bush, here we are — the so-called Ross Pride — the two adult brothers, called Good and Bad, lazing in the late afternoon sun.

To our left across the water, two females of the pride.

And a few metres just next to our jeep, another female. Huge cats these are, fancy a tummy rub?

There’s another jeep too, which soon reverses and leaves. Everybody is told to be quiet, and to sit still — no standing up, no talking, no noise, no flashes — very important not to spook these lions. In fact the same rules apply when observing other wild animals as well.

The other jeep gone, we move closer to the males, as Matt kills the engine. It’s quite fascinating — awesome wild predators just metres away, while we are ‘safe’ in our jeep. It is so calm and serene, just the sound of birds.

This must be Bad (since I’m told he has a scar on the face) — he just opens his eyes to look at us, obviously disturbed by the pesky diesel engine.

I guess we are more impressed of him than he of us. He stares at us for while and then shuts the eyes to continue napping. Maybe they need to rest for tonight’s hunt? Anyway it’s very fascinating to observe these creatures so close, in their natural habitat.

Meanwhile brother Good does not bother to acknowledge us at all. This pride has been around in this area for a while, and there’re virtually daily reports of their whereabouts and what they are up to, so no surprise they are used to humans gawking at them. But it’s still amazing to see them so inert now knowing full well they can become vicious predators elsewhere.

We let the pride go since we have another agendum before it gets too dark.

One of my favourites — Pumbaa the warthog — suddenly appears in the middle of the path, stares at us, then struts off into the bush. I love the upright tail — just like a car radio antenna — so easily spotted in the bush. As cute as I thought!

The sun is pretty low in the clear African sky now, and I hope there’s still enough light for photography.

The sun almost hidden among the trees and we spot another jeep — there must be action nearby.

Further into the bush, and there’s yet another jeep — stalking a herd of elephants … awesome!

One of the males in the herd …

… which doesn’t look too old yet.

Nice profile — much larger than Asian elephants, and the ears are bigger too.

There’s a bigger male there, probably the boss, and a youngster. They don’t make much noise, just rustling sounds as they grab the branches to chomp on the leaves.

We observe the animals at close range, as Matt maneuvres the jeep whenever the whole herd moves.

It’s quite spectacular to be able to do this — the stuff we used to see only on NatGeo or Discovery!

From time to time, the cheeky youngster raises his ears and pretends to charge at us …

… but always turns away at the last minute. Great entertainment for us, the adults couldn’t care less but continue feasting on the leaves.

One final shot of this family of gentle giants — what an experience. They are free to roam and are protected in this reserve.

We head for a nice spot for our sundowner, but not before bumping into a lonely kudu — potential dinner for the lions. 🙂

And indeed we get ourself a spectacular sunset, which deserves a memorable leap!

 

> THE END 

 

Our Safari Lodge in the Kruger Bush

South Africa > Kruger National Park

13-15 May 2013

We enter Kruger National Park via the Timbavati Gate at its western perimeter, and we soon spot our first game by the roadside — a handsome male giraffe. Matt, the ranger who collects us, promptly stops the van for a photo opportunity, while the gent obliges.

I make full use of my Sony NEX-6 camera, with the kit 18-200mm lens. With a bit of cropping, I can get very ‘close’ to this beautiful animal. We also spot a cape buffalo sitting alone in a river, and baboons by the roadside, but I can’t get a good shot from inside the van, unfortunately.

The van soon gets off the road and enters a dirt track to a shed where we change for the second time — now a ride on the tough, all-terrain safari jeep! This should be fun. With everybody on-board (two of us plus a couple from Vancouver) and our baggage secured in the last row seats, Matt drives off to our safari lodge.

Now this is true safari country, free-ranging wild animals are everywhere here, and Matt keeps his eyes and ears open while driving.

We spot something in the bush — a female kudu!

Every nook and cranny of this countryside can bring a surprise, so everybody is on the look-out, but we are not really sure what to expect.

We bump into another Africa on Foot man with a Land Rover Defender – we later learn this is Enoch, a superb tracker.

Our lodge finally, and wa-hey I’ve managed to locate it on Google Map! — please click http://goo.gl/maps/ZdXOv.

Ah well, I just need to admire this mean machine. I’ve seen it on safari documentaries on telly many times, and I just can’t wait to try it out myself.

This is the ‘clubhouse’ of the lodge, where we have our meals and socialise.

Another view of the clubhouse — the reading area and the pub. This lodge has an open compound — no security fencing or barrier, and wild animals can just stroll in.

After check-in formality is done, we are shown our home for the next two nights — that chalet or hut on the left.

Next to our chalet, just the open bush where wild animals freely roam.

Our home, Tjankbos. Nicely thatched roof.

No lock, just a latch for the front door.

At the back the shower area, open-air. Note the hot water piping. Water is bored from the ground (tastes a bit salty) and is heated with gas in a cylinder.

And behind our chalet — open safari country where any animal can just appear!

Nevertheless the interior is immaculate. I haven’t used a mosquito net since a kid, so I’m quite excited.

Spartan but practical furnishing. Electricity is generated via solar panels, and that oil lamp is to supplement the rather dim LED lighting used at night. It’s virtually winter now, so we don’t need the fan at all.

At the foot of the bed some minimal furnishing and more windows, complete with shades and insect barriers. This chalet looks small on the outside, but surprisingly quiet spacious inside. Note the red airhorn on the table — that’s for emergency use, such as when a snake is spotted under the bed, say, especially at night when the curfew is on (yes, we do have a curfew after dinner due to the risk of wild animals wandering into the lodge’s compound at night). 🙂

All in all, quite a comfy proposition, this hut. We love it!

The back area has en-suite toilet, with a door to the open-air shower. The hot water is handy since it’s now almost winter and temperatures have been low.

Can you imagine a giraffe suddenly peering into your shower? Can easily happen.

This is my view when showering. The hot water works, problem is when there is a breeze — it can get pretty chilly, esp. in the evening! But then evening showers are unique with all the sparkling stars (and the Milky Way) in the sky staring at you.

Back to the clubhouse, with thatched roof, …

… just like our chalet at extreme left, and other buildings.

Interesting indigenous plant behind the clubhouse, and there’s the dish for the only TV for the guests.

Also behind the clubhouse, the office, with these life-saving communication antennae atop it. Well, one is for wireless internet access, which is reliable and fast … not to mention free.

We always have our meals together — guests and guides Matt and Enoch. To the left there’s the kitchen, and the cooks would deliver the freshly-prepared meals. We have enjoyable breakfasts, lunches and dinners here.

The food is pretty good, and as we specified prior to coming of our dietary preference, they do their best to cater for us.

After the evening drives, we gather at this open-air corner of the clubhouse, light a bonfire and start telling tales — the taller the better, as we wait for dinner to be ready. Great stuff, especially when the sky is full of stars!

The reading area of the clubhouse, with protective tarpaulins drawn to protect from animal invasion during the night.

Dinner time, with LED lamps to conserve energy.

The other end of the clubhouse is the pub.

Not many patrons for the night, but a cosy spot nevertheless.

Breakfast time, taken after the long morning walks, and this area is a very pleasant spot to hang around.

As mentioned, the friendly guides are always with us during meal times, helping us out. Indeed a great place to stay on a Kruger safari.

Finally a bit of history on ‘Africa on Foot’ — to learn more please visit their website: http://www.africaonfoot.com

> THE END

 

 

 

 

 

Johannesburg to Kruger National Park by Road

South Africa > Limpopo Province

13 May 2013

It is sunrise over the OR Tambo Airport field as we embark on our journey to Kruger National Park.

As schoolkids walk to schools, our long-distance transfer van makes it round collecting guests going to Kruger National Park, from accommodations around the airport.  Pick-up is normally for locations within a 5km radius of the airport, otherwise you have to make your own way to the airport to be collected. Hence our decision to stay in a hotel just next to the airport.

It’s going to be a long 6-hour cross-country drive, including two 15-min stops along the way. It’s 450km from Jo’burg to a town called Hoedspruit, one of the towns serving Kruger — located at the western periphery of the national park. Once there we would be transfered to another vehicle which would take us to our lodge inside Kruger itself. A total distance of about 500km.

Along the M12 heading east out of Jo’burg, and I spot a South African friend 🙂 … and it’s getting foggy too.

In the area east of Jo’burg, they found huge deposits of coal, and thus gigantic power plants sprouted, producing most of the power that South Africa needs.

Here’s one of the numerous coal mines dotting the plains. South Africa has the world’s 9th largest coal reserve and owns 95% of Africa’s total reserve. It is also the 5th largest coal exporter in the world. Awesome statistics.

And the inevitable mine tailings, dumped as high as hills. South Africa also exports power to neighbouring countries, such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, and to enclosed ones — Lesotho and Swaziland.

A major problem in this region is pollution, and when combined with fog, we have smog. Luckily this one is more fog than smog!

It’s pretty depressing watching power plants belching thick smoke into the atmosphere. Here there are cornfields as far as the eyes could see.

We jump from the M12 onto the M4, which has a toll plaza — this modern expressway goes all the way eastwards, into Mozambique and ends at the capital Maputo, some 550km from Jo’burg.

Soon after the Middelburg toll plaza, we do our first pit-stop. Fuel is expensive in South Africa — that’s about MYR4 per litre. The country is blessed with gold, diamond, coal, and other precious minerals, but not oil … well they haven’t really found that much yet, so it’s a large net importer of oil. South Africa has extremely old geology, a remnant of Gondwanaland, so maybe there’s a connection.

Nothing like a cup of hot African cappuccino on a cool sunny morning.

Back on the M4, which goes all the way to Maputo, capital of Mozambique, about 400km away.

We get off M4 and head north along a very scenic mountain road — this is Dullstroom, the only town with decent snow in winter in South Africa.

The terrain gets drier and rockier as we head towards a pass in the mountains.

I can see some really old geology here — relic of Gondwanaland indeed, 100-300mil years old!

Sometimes it does look like Australia to me, another very ancient land.

Our second 15-min coffee break  is near the town of Lydenburg, in the mountains.

We have never seen such humongous cabbages. One of these giants could probably feed a family for a week. Obviously fertile land for vegetables around here.

Behind the shops, I spot a guy watching the geese. I have no clue why, but the black guy, the white geese and the green and brown landscape look interesting.

Time to move on and we enter the northern bit of the famous 1000km-long Drakensberg Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s part of the Great Escarpment of South Africa — a chain of tall mountain ranges which skirt both the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean coastlines. These mountains block moisture from the oceans, thus making the interior of South Africa arid.

Part of the truly majestic Drakensberg, with fertile arable land in the foregound. We are now in Limpopo province.

We started the morning in Jo’burg, the capital of Gauteng province, and passed through Mpumalanga province to get to Limpopo. For something as huge as South Africa, there are only 9 provinces.

Beautiful autumn foliage on display.

Workers hard at work on this farmland, not too sure what they are growing. The climate and soil are very suitable for vegetables.

The road goes left and does a wide right turn into this beautiful valley.

A common mode of transport — there seems to be no regular bus service, although infrequent taxi-vans ply the roads. So locals try to hitch a ride on anything, some even try to hail us. Funnily enough nobody was using motorbikes.

The road goes through a pass with spectacular cliffs along the way.

We pass the Drakensberg and this formation is a minor spur of the great mountain range, which rises up to 3,500m, about 600km further south in Kwazulu-Natal province, near Lesotho.

Another view of this ancient geology, caused by the break-up of Gondwanaland some 200mil year ago.

More spectacular formation of the Drankensburg, but surprisingly enough, they are planting citrus fruits, especially oranges and lemons. What? A spot of Mediterranean climate here?

We soon reach the town of Hoedspruit, with just 2000 people, some 6 hours after leaving Jo’burg. It’s pleasantly cool and sunny. We drop off some travellers here, to be picked up by their respective lodges.

Hoedspruit is truly an eco-tourist town, thanks to Kruger National Park just next door. There’s also a major South African Air Force Base nearby. The base hosts a civilian airport called Eastgate. Interestingly enough this airfield is also designated as an emergency landing site for the (retired) US Space Shuttles.

Past Hoedspruit we proceed along the Kruger perimeter road, heading south. The famous national park is on the left, protected by high fencing, and to the right a rail track to Mozambique — not for passengers, but mainly for the export of coal to Maputo.

Our van from Jo’burg makes a turn to the left into the bush, and in the compound of a pub, believe it or not, our next ride into Kruger National Park awaits.  We are staying at the Africa on Foot Lodge, and are looking forward to it in full anticipation.

Kruger has 11 gates and we are entering via the Timbavati Gate at the western perimeter, because our lodge is in Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, a part of the huge national park. Our adventure is going to begin very soon!

 

> TO BE CONTINUED 

 

 

 

Johannesburg Arrival and Nelson Mandela

South Africa > Johannesburg

May 2013

There was a brief sale by Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) for Singapore-Johannesburg (via Jeddah) in March 2013, so I quickly grabbed a couple of tickets and told the shocked ma’am, we are doing South Africa in a couple of months’ time! Well, just ample time to plan for our maiden trip to this much-mentioned country — this is my second visit to Africa (earlier trip was to Ghana in 1996), but a first for her.

A quick hop by air from Kuala Lumpur, and soon we are checking in for JNB via JED, at Singapore SIN Terminal 3. By the way our flight is made longer by a brief stop in Riyadh.

I have visited SIN T3 before, but this is the first time I am actually using it — am very impressed indeed, the way only the Singaporeans could.

Our transport to Jeddah is already at the gate — flight SV839, Boeing 777-200 reg. HZ-AKO. Departure at 1700h, arrival in Jeddah at 2255h — longish journey.

Interior is pretty standard and comfortable, with a large group of Indonesians heading for Mecca for umrah (minor pilgrimage).

Sunset during flight as we head west, still a long way to go.

One interesting thing about Saudia is the provision of a prayer area at the back of the plane. They probably sacrifice 12 seats in this Boeing  777-200. The downside is toilets are always wet and littered with tissue papers, caused by people doing their ablutions!

Transiting in Jeddah is painless, if it’s 5 hours or less like us. It’s pretty basic though, a rather old-fashioned, boring airport. Luckily it is not too crowded, except for waves of pilgrims waiting to catch their flights home.  But thank Allah, they are building a new terminal, Phase 1 to be ready 2014. At the moment, passengers are bussed to planes parked a distance away from the terminal.

Our boarding passes to Johannesburg ready, and we are good to go.

Sunrise over the Red Sea as the plane enters African airspace. Flight SV447, another Boeing 777-200 reg. HZ-AKV.

Interesting flight path — from Jeddah, a straight line to the mouth of the Red Sea, then right turn into Africa.

Service aboard Saudia is generally good, and they keep feeding us — three tasty meals on the SIN-JED flight, and two more for JED-JNB. Only in-flight problem is the condition of the toilets, due to some umrah pilgrims who lack basic etiquette, sorry to say.

Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport JNB, finally, some 30hrs after leaving Kuala Lumpur. Suprisingly modern and hip.

On the shuttle van to the hotel, and two European Airbus A380s by the roadside. Heavy traffic for these routes I suppose.

Modern freeways around the airport, our hotel is at Kempton Park, just 10min away, but some 25km from downtown Johannesburg.

After a long flight it’s nice to get to the hotel as fast as possible. Another reason we choose this hotel, just next to the airport, is for convenient pick-up to Kruger National Park early tomorrow morning.

Well-appointed room, and we have a short rest, while planning what to do for the rest of the day.

Look at the hotel’s security wall and the electrified fence atop it — seems to be commonplace for homes in Johannesburg! I hope we don’t have to do this in Malaysia to deter intruders.

We are in early and still have a half-day to spend. Since this is the only time we have in Jo’burg, we decide to pay the city a visit.

I notice a long ridge with yellow soil on the leftside of the freeway as we head downtown. I am told, underneath it there’s still a lot of gold. Johannesburg sits atop a huge gold deposit, and mining is strictly controlled.

More gold-bearing yellow ridges in the distance, as we drive to the south of Jo’burg in the direction of Soweto.

This is our main destination — the highly-regarded Apartheid Museum, a memorial to the horrible days of apartheid (1948-1994), …

…  and a ‘shrine’ to Nelson Mandela, the person who virtually dismantled it all. Unfortunately no pictures allowed in his special museum.

We duly get our tickets, but much to our surprise, we are segregated at the entrance — I get the ‘non-white’ ticket, she the ‘white’ ticket! Fair enough, she’s much fairer than me anyway. 🙂

We enter and are welcomed by relics from the apartheid era, a system based on the premise that people of various races are so different from each other, that they cannot possibly live together.

The original idea of implementing apartheid in 1948 was also to assist the struggling Dutch and German settlers, who were economically and socially stuck between the wealthy British landowners and the impoverished black natives — sounds quite familiar to us in Malaysia, right? 🙂

To accommodate apartheid, the government then had to amend more than 50 legislations, thus entrenching racial discrimination in every level of society in South Africa.

In the landmark 1994 elections, Mandela’s African National Congress party won 63% of the seats, just short of 2/3 majority to enable amendments of constitution, but the Govt of National Unity was set up — with cabinet comprising ANC members and representatives from opposition parties. How I wish the same thing would happen here in Malaysia!

Back then they did take this classification business very seriously. Apartheid recognised four racial groups: Whites, Blacks, Coloureds, Asians. I’m sure they must have devised ‘tests’ on how to determine who belongs to which group!

Along the wide corridor of the museum there’s an interesting display — live-size images of relatives of personalities of the apartheid era are attached to mirrors, thus giving an illusion of them being around in person.

Of course, I couldn’t resist myself from being part of the picture too, pun intended.

My partner also joins in, gleefully.

There’s even one outside, against the backdrop of Jo’burg’s modern skyline.

With the fall of apartheid, these key words become their slogan.

This bit is especially meaningful, in the context of multiracial Malaysia as well.

Such a significant place, it deserves a leap!

We soon head north towards downtown Jo’burg. Having heard so much of this city, I just have to go see it for myself.

We take the M1 which goes straight through downtown Jo’burg.

Past some colourful old part of Jo’burg, approaching the rail yard.

They built this Mandela Bridge to cross the huge rail yard, and we enter downtown proper to the right.

In general, Jo’burg looks pretty modern, but it reminds me of American cities, esp. with its grid of streets.

It is the seat of large-scale gold and diamond trade — it’s believed underneath this city itself, there’s still a lot of gold waiting to be mined.

Jo’burg is located on a plateau, more than 1700m above sea level, has a subtropical highland climate — summers can be hot. Population is dominated by blacks (more than 70%), followed by whites (16%), coloureds (6%) and Asians (4%).

Gold was discovered in the 1880s which triggered a massive gold rush, and Jo’burg grew rapidly from there. Now it is the business hub for South Africa, and home to some of Africa’s tallest structures.

Though reputed to be a ‘dangerous’ city, an experienced traveler should know where (and when) not to go in downtown Jo’burg. I mean it can be as safe as or as dangerous as Chicago, say. Almost 40% of city population are unemployed with about 90% of them being blacks. A lot of these unemployed blacks come from outside Jo’burg and neighbouring countries, such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana, and this contributes to the high crime rate.

Otherwise Jo’burg looks just like any well-planned city I’ve seen elsewhere. Crime rate has significantly dropped, thanks to World Cup Football 2010, together with concerted efforts by the authorities to stamp out crimes.

It’s the largest city in South Africa with 4.5mil people in the metro area — it’s not the capital of South Africa, but the capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in the country. They say South Africa has three ‘capitals’: Pretoria (real capital, seat of government), Cape Town (tourism capital), Jo’burg (financial capital).

Apartment blocks are plentiful in downtown Jo’burg, mainly owned by whites who used to live here, but have since moved out to safer, more comfortable suburbs. Now these homes are rented out mainly to blacks, and the whites only come to downtown to work.

A quick tour of downtown Jo’burg done and we head back to our hotel near the O.R. Tambo Airport, but we need to do a detour first.

Yes, a mandatory stop at a huge modern shopping mall called Eastgate, northeast of downtown, midway to the airport.

Quite well-designed this mall, with crowds of blacks, whites, coloureds, Asians, and everything in-between, patronising the shops and the countless restaurants on a beautiful Sunday late afternoon. It truly reminds me of the shopping malls we have in Malaysia, with our own multiracial crowds.

It is such a nice spot that we would have stayed longer, if not because we have to get dinner fast. We just need to get back to the hotel as soon as possible to sleep, no thanks to jet lag. It has been a long day.

And yes, this is our take-away dinner — tasty Nando’s, which is halal in all of South Africa.

We get back to the hotel in good time, and I admire the beautiful new banknotes featuring Mr Mandela. He’s probably the only non-royalty who gets his face on banknotes while still being alive … fantastic!

 

We’ll have a very early start tomorrow morning — somebody will pick us up at 6.30am for the 6-hour drive to Kruger National Park, located at the northeastern corner of South Africa, close to the border with Mozambique.

 > THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leopards in Kruger National Park, South Africa

South Africa > Kruger National Park

14 May 2013

It was very fortunate for us to able to spot the leopards (three of them) in a span of just 30min. It is said only 10% of all visitors managed to sight these beautiful animals, so here’s our memorable leopard-hunting story.

Sunset in the bush is always a fantastic experience, as the whole place comes alive with nocturnal creatures.

As usual we do our evening drive in the bush, with Enoch (the spotter) at the bonnet seat holding a spotlight, while ranger Matt drives the awesome all-terrain safari jeep.

Even in darkness these guides know this huge bush area like the backs of their hands. Suddenly the radio crackles … another jeep has spotted a leopard nearby.

We scrambles over through the bush, and after demolishing some shrubs along the way (plus a couple of small trees), we spot a leopard!  Spotlight from the other jeep helps to guide us.

Though excited, everybody stays quite, just diesel engine noises from the jeeps, and the animal seems oblivious to it all, minding its own business.

A female leopard, and she strolls back and forth in the bush.

Suddenly a smaller one appears from the shadow … yes, it’s now mom and cub, on an evening out. Soon they saunter further into the thick bush and we decide to let them go. What a great experience to seek and stalk these magnificent creatures.

We get out of the bush and as we cruise along the dirt track, Enoch spots a hyena loitering to our right. If a hyena is behaving like this, then maybe he’s after something up one of the trees — Enoch trains his spotlight on the trees, and sure enough, another leopard! (By the way, one of my aims in Kruger is to see a hyena — it’s surprisingly large in size, as ugly as in telly, and keeps moving around. I can’t get a good shot of it due to very poor lighting.)

Suprising that even a leopard is not keen to engage a solitary hyena, such a vile creature it is. 🙂

Matt calls two other fellow jeeps about this rare find, one soon arrives with a good spotlight. The poor leopard just sits still to wait out the hyena in the bush below.

Suddenly it turns around, probably tracking the hyena which we can’t see at all.

A bit more waiting …

People in both jeeps are still busy clicking their cams away … doesn’t seem to bother the subject at all. The strong spotlight helps in getting my pics done — using the NEX-6 with 18-200mm lens.

Suddenly the beautiful animal just scrambles down the tree to disappear in the darkness. That is the last we see of it.

What a memorable experience — three leopards in a single evening, thanks to Matt and Enoch from Africa on Foot, seen here checking out some animal tracks. 😀

 

> THE END

 

 

 

 

 

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