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Southern Africa

Posted on 6 Feb 2020 | 6 comments

Just before leaving Africa we needed to finish up some leave, and booked a trip to Southern Africa. We flew to Johannesburg where we met up with Rob, Ursie, India, Juliet, Kira and Kanga (the lovely young dog) for dinner and a leisurely breakfast. It was great to catch up even though it felt way too short.

we visit Rob, Ursie, India, Juliet and Kira in Johannesburg

From there we drove in our two-wheel drive rental car to Blyde Canyon, briefly popping in at the Mac Mac Pools on the way. We enjoyed the view and had a fantastic meal in the local restaurant, but the next day we decided to head straight to Kruger NP as heavy morning fog had obscured the view and there was no point in travelling to God’s Window and other lookouts.

Arriving at Kruger NP we were in for a surprise. We had brought our tent, thinking we could just rock up and camp (which is possible everywhere in East Africa), forgetting that camping is the national hobby of most South Africans and so we found the entire Kruger NP campsites fully booked. Luckily we managed to get the last bungalow in Satara and the last hut in Pretoriuskopje. We wanted to stay in Satara, so that was perfect, but not being able to stay in Lower Sabie (our preferred location for the next night) meant we had to drive quite a large distance on our second day just to get to camp. But, at least we could get in and spend the nights (otherwise you have to explore as a day-visitor, unless that is full too!).

the last hut in Pretoriuskopje – our meals in Kruger NP were terrible, the options for restaurants were appaling and we wished we had brought our own food

We enjoyed Kruger NP. It is very similar to Tsavo East NP in Kenya, but a lot more developed and busy. Tarmac roads crisscross the park, and many well-maintained dirt roads zigzag between them, giving you plenty of options to explore, all in a 2WD. At Satara we did a nice night drive in a massive truck with 21 others. Jude spotted most animals, including several genets, a white-faced scops owl and an African wild cat. Our guide found a sleepy flapnecked chameleon and a Wahlberg’s eagle, also sleeping. The encounter with the three powerful looking male lions was also nice.

in Kruger NP there are several tarmac roads crisscrossing the park, it seems odd to see wildlife from your tiny 2wd rental car

an amazing sighting of an African wild cat on our night drive, luckily Jude was awake and spotted him. Our best sighting of a wild cat in all our time in Africa

But despite the fact that honey badgers in camp are supposed to be a nuisance, we couldn’t find any. We did see some elephants come close to the fence (all camp areas are completely fenced in Kruger) during dinner. On our last day, on our way out, we hit the jackpot in one small valley. We saw 9 white rhinos and a pack of wild dogs. The rhinos completed our Big 5 for the park, having already spotted several lions, two leopards, herds of buffalo and many, many elephants before. We even managed to add six new birds to our list, pretty impressive actually.

a chance encounter with a small pack of wild dogs in Kruger NP, we were lucky we picked this track as we also saw 9 rhinos in this valley

an agile African harrier hawk calling whilst looking for its next meal

Jude enjoying the views in Kruger NP

mummy and baby elephant in perfect profile, aren’t they adorable

one of the rhinos comes down to cross the rugged track we were on

good timing, this leopard was moving from one branch to another to find more shade

at one of the lookouts we enjoy watching the elephants come in for a drink in the distance

we think we will miss our safaris…

Next up was our brief stint into Mozambique where Jude wanted to go diving. Unfortunately we experienced a bit of ‘African efficiency’ at the border when the lady issuing visas for Mozambique just disappeared for over an hour after giving us the forms to fill in. The explanation after she came back was that the big boss had come to give a speech…

The drive down to Ponta do Ouro was smooth on a new tarmac toll road and from Maputo it only took one and a half hour to get there. Unfortunately in exchange for building the road, the Chinese have been given fishing rights for five years… so once they have finished fishing the seas empty there might be no reason left to head down to the coast (which is where most of the tourists go as the marine life in Mozambique is incredible).

driving on the new road in Mozambique to our dive site we spot this interesting sign

It was a little tricky to find the house we were staying at in the dark, but in the end it was very close to the dive shop where we would meet the next morning. We had parked our rental car further away as the road we were now living on was sandy and 4wd only. We just walked to Back to Basics Adventures in the morning and Jude met her fellow divers, including her buddy for the day Rupert (one of the owners, as well as an excellent skipper and nudi spotter extraordinaire).

Once kitted up with a 5mm wetsuit as well as a 5mm chicken vest plus hoody (the water temperature is a frigid 22-23 degrees!), we all jumped onto the boat. The tractor towed us to the beach, down the main street and through the campground, where we had to push the boat around to face the waves. It was an exciting ride through the breakers to our first dive site – Atlantis.

climb aboard, a tractor drives crew, divers and boat to the beach launch site in the morning

Jude and Nito (crrew) riding the dive boat to the beach

divers and crew work together to push the boat around so it faces the waves

it needed a push from the tractor to get it floating

Atlantis is a reef located around 40m below the surface, we were doing a deep dive. As the allowed bottom time at such depths is so short, our diveleader informed us we would be adding 2 minutes deco time, pushing it to 13 minutes. The dive was over in 25 min, including the safety stops. But it was an incredible 13 minutes of actual bottom time, nice black corals, some big fish, and of course a few cool nudis were the reward for going this deep. Jude wished she could head down a lot more times to this place.

fish life and corals under water around 43m down

After an hour of surface time on the beach with some tea and fresh coconut it was time to head to the second dive site – Doodles. This site is not deep, maximum here was around 16m. But it packed a lovely punch. Again lots of fish, including big ones and a red frog fish, and heaps of eels, including two enormous honeycomb eels hanging out in one hole. There were also several rays cruising by, and Jude spotted two diamond eagle rays hiding in the sand. They are enormous and can apparently only be seen there during winter, no one knows where they go the rest of the year. But of course no dive is complete without looking for nudis and flatworms, and this site didn’t disappoint. Rupert pointed out some amazing ones for Jude, and she found several herself too and was thoroughly enjoying herself. This dive was a bit longer, we came up after 69 min, the last ones to hop back on to the boat.

several hypselodoris whitei eating together

stunning red frogfish

a round ribbontail ray cruises by several times, it seems Doodles is his home

a new nudi for Jude – janolus savinkini

two unknown large nudis mating, they were found under a rock by Rupert (Jude’s dive buddy)

Jon in the meantime had also been out on a boat, snorkeling and playing with dolphins. He was lucky as the dolphins really interacted with the 5 snorkellers, and had a great time. We arrived back at the beach at the same time.

Jon heads out for a snorkel with a pod of these beauties

Back at the dive shop Rupert and Jenny unfortunately had to leave, but we chatted for a long time with Amelie, the instructor living there too who is planning her overland trip with Ruan next year. She invited us over for a bbq, and after a relaxed walk and lunch at a beach bar, we returned to the dive shop to join them. Amelie is also a vegetarian, and Ruan a South African who knows how to braai, so we both really enjoyed this special treat. We talked for hours, well past our bedtime, and discussed many random things, including of course their upcoming trip.

we have a great night with Amelie and Ruan who are about to start their overland trip across Africa

The next morning we left Mozambique, wishing we could stay longer. The border crossing this time was a lot smoother and around 3pm we arrived at the gate of Mkhaya Game Reserve in eSwatini. eSwatini is a tiny country in between South Africa and Mozambique that used to be called Swaziland. We would be picked up at the gate at 4pm, so, as it is run like a precision machine, we enjoyed an hour of reading until they arrived at 4pm sharp.

Once we were in the safari vehicle, we enjoyed seeing the rhinos they have, as well as loads of other animals. Just driving in our own vehicle we had already spotted roan antelope. The drives were short, too short we felt, but we were lucky to see a black rhino on our way to Stone Camp. She wasn’t happy to see us though and charged. We left her in peace and went for drinks and dinner by the fire. The cottages are gorgeous, a shame we won’t spend much time in them. After dinner there was dancing and singing, before we went for a little walk to the hide with our torches. We spotted a beautiful genet strolling around and then went to bed with nyalas all around us.

this female black rhino was not happy to see us and charged several times

in the evening we were treated to the ladies singing and dancing some of eSwatini’s songs

a large-spotted genet prowls the surrounds of the lodge

our stunning ‘room’ in eSwatini

the interior of our inside-outside room, a bed and a bathroom is all you need really

The nyalas were still there in the morning, almost inside our open cottage. We were off on our game drive, spotting birds and several more rhino, but no black ones. Back in camp we had a relaxed breakfast before packing up our bags and heading out for a final game drive back to the gate. It had been short but sweet.

a young nyala male walks through the lodge

wildlife is used to people around the lodge, Jude is watching the crested guineafowl which we’ve only seen a handful of times in East Africa

adorable little hippo creating a bubble bath

this white rhino followed the safari car for several hundred metres, trotting along behind us

Our next stop in eSwatini was the Ngwenya glass workshop. Unfortunately the workshop is closed on weekends, but they have a great shop, many other artists’ shops, as well as an excellent café where we enjoyed a good, albeit late, lunch. They served the best chocolate milkshake we had ever tasted.

Jude looking at birds in the garden of the Ngwenya glass workshop whilst enjoying lunch and the best ever chocolate milkshake we had ever tasted

Not far from Ngwenya was our next destination, Malolotja Nature Reserve. We would finally make use of our tent and camp, but first we went on a walk. There are no predators here so you can walk anywhere, and we wanted to walk to the waterfall. The track was not very well signposted and we started off wrong, but planned to cut through to reconnect. Later we discovered the track was actually closed because the bald ibis is breeding in the area, we had been lucky enough to see some fly overhead.

Jude overlooking the Malolotja Nature Reserve at the start of our hike

We had pre-booked our dinner and ate it, sitting outside whilst watching the sunset. In the dark we pitched our tent at one of the amazing campsites, each site has its own picnic table and flattened grassy zone. Communally there was a toilet and shower block with excellent hot showers. Incredible.

sunset over Malolotja Nature Reserve during our picnic dinner

The next morning we awoke early, enjoyed our breakfast watching the rock hyraxes soak up the sun, and then it was time to leave. We still had one final border to cross and drive all the way to Johannesburg to catch our flight home…

Jon wakes up on our last day of the holiday and the first time we actually managed to use the tent

6 Comments

  1. I sure think you will miss your safaris! good read as always and I love the look of Jon on the last photo. 😉

    • hahahahaha, yes we will indeed. He loved my selection too 😉

  2. Een boeiend relaas en mooie foto’s!

    • dank je!! ik ben nog een beetje achter met de verhalen … heel leuk om jullie weer te zien op het feest van pa en ma! Geweldig dat de vriendschappen ook zo lang mee gaan.

  3. It,s good to see you both enjoy your travels wherever you go and the pictures you take are allways very interesting.
    Judith we knew she would be a globe trotter,strange language and meeting other people no problem !
    You,re a lucky man Jon with a travelingpartner like she is,so keep on exploring you two are made for it.

    • thanks Jan!! I am also very lucky with a man like Jon to keep me company on all travels 🙂 It was really lovely to see you again at the party! And you know you are always welcome to stay in Brisbane with us if you decide to come over again, soon we will have a place to call home again here (from 26 Feb) so you’re welcome 🙂

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