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