Our time in South Africa actually started in New York. After our flight from Orlando, we stayed the night in NYC, feeling a burst of nostalgia every time an MTA bus passed. But in the morning it was off early for O.R. Tambo International Airport, Jo'burg. It's funny, O.R.lando to O.R.Tambo. But we didn't have enough time to see the city before we were in a van to the Waterberg area, and to our new safari home.
It was paradise with the heat turned up. Every morning we would wake up to the sound of the red hornbills tap-tapping on the window, and seeing the herd of impala antelope just outside the walls of the lodge. We would have breakfast, give the cats and cute puppies a quick hug before getting on a horse, a safari jeep, or even our shoes for a quick game walk.
It was safe to do all those things because the only big five in the reserve were rhinos that came to the owners' house every night for food, and a herd of buffalo in a breeding camp. The rhinos come because their natural food ran out. There is a baby called Scorcher. He only has one horn so far. (So cute!!) There are also some leopards, but they have never been seen during the day so we were perfectly safe. We saw sables and impala and kudu and eland and the list goes on (and those are just the antelope!). We also saw warthogs and giraffes and zebra, as well as the nocturnal bushbabys*. Another animal that we saw were the baboons. They are everywhere, but you only see their butts as they run away, unless you're really lucky.
South Africa, should I compare it to any other place on this trip, would be in the same catagory as Mongolia. Both places we were out in the wild 90% of the time, and both places we enjoyed so much that I might consider saying that they was the best. We really enjoyed our time in the Waterberg area. The one sad thing is that rhino poaching there is a big problem. They even had one rhino, Bananahorn, poached inside the reserve, although not while we were there. Bananahorn's son, Max, lived with a herd of buffalo for three months, before Sophie, the dominant female rhino took him back to the owners house and showed him the food there. But as long as there is a decline in poaching, I'm sure that South Africa will stay an international treasure for a long time yet.
*Bushbaby: a tiny monkey that has bright orange eyes when you shine a torch on it, can jump 3-4 meters across roads, and does so just to show of to other monkeys (or humans apparently).
Many of the places we’ve been this year have reminded me of somewhere in NZ. Waterberg, where we spent most of our time in South Africa, really didn’t, although parts of Australia come close. The bits of Cape Town and Johannesburg we saw felt really familiar. Might be a little homesick...
Our arrival into Johannesburg could’ve been better (one totally exhausted member of our party threw up at the immigration desk, luckily after his passport had been stamped!) but the rest of our time here was very special. We spent a week at a private game reserve called Ants Nest, where we rode horses right up to herds of zebras or giraffes, watched rhinos stroll past without them (or our horses) blinking an eye, and had long canters along roads, watching impala leap out of the way. We also went on game drives and walks, learning to tell the difference between the poo of male and female rhinos, and looking under rocks for scorpions. I’m not sure what we would’ve done if we actually found one, though! Every evening, we had sundowners in a different place, watching the sun set over the valley. One evening, we went to the owner’s house and fed the rhinos their supper, laughing at the silly little sounds they make, a bit like a whale. Because each group of guests could do their own thing each morning and evening, if they wanted to, it was great comparing notes over lunch and dinner - what did the other group of horse riders see? What about the group who went to the breeding programme? It was like living in a zoo. Okay, I often feel like a live in a zoo, but this time it’s not just the kids!
After our week with the animals, we went to Cape Town. We stayed in an apartment on Kloof Street, a fairly hipster part of town, meaning there was a good selection of restaurants on our doorstep. We took the cable car up Table Mountain one afternoon and explored the top, walking to the highest point, which to be honest is not much higher than the top of the cable car, and staying well clear of the top of the cliffs. The next day, we tried to get the ferry out to Robben Island, but it was booked out for the rest of the week, so we watched people and a magic show on the waterfront instead. It was also good to have the opportunity to catch up on a bit of work and school, and we even had a home cooked meal.
It's interesting to speculate about the things from this trip that are going to stick. What will be the moments we remember and talk about? Here are three contenders from our time on safari at Ants Nest near Vaalwater in South Africa:
- Blatting along a very rough dirt road on a MTB as large herds of zebra run alongside and impala jump right across the dirt road in a single bound;
- Sitting on a horse watching a family of white rhino only a few meters away casually go about their business (which is mostly eating, defecating and lying in the sun);
- Taking a vantage spot next to what is left of a river after 5 months with no rain as a giraffe splays its legs so that it can get its long neck down to the small puddle of water and weighs the risk of taking its eyes off its surroundings with the benefits of a drink.
Actually there are many many more. Pity the poor person who asks to see our photos.
After that we spent a few nights in Cape Town to take a breather and catch up on work and school, which was a bit painful for everybody after a few weeks out of the habit. To distract from that we went hiking on Table Mountain and the following day entertained ourselves at the V&A waterfront. I was even foolish enough to take a run on Signal Hill / Lions Head which was considerably too steep both up and down for somebody in my current state of fitness - lucky for me the views are spectacular, so I had regular excuses for stops.
As we fly out for Botswana we have put about 235 days travelling behind us and have about 100 days to go.
As they say in these parts: hectic!
When we arrived in South Africa we stayed at a house and there were lots of cats and a dog there. Then we left there was a van and we drove to Ants Nest and it was really really jiggerty. We went on a game drive that day and we saw lots of impala and some zebras. On our first horseback safari I saw 20 zebra and four giraffes. We had dinner up in our lounge. The fire was going and it was really nice.
One night for sundowners we went to Ant's house and we fed the rhinos. We fed them hay and rhino food. There was a baby rhino named Scorcher. He only had one horn. They make a stupid whining sound a bit like a whale.
We saw Scorcher two times after that when we were out riding. I only did a small canter on the first day. We found lots of porcupine quills when we were out on a walk.
When we had to leave Ants Nest we went to Capetown and we climbed up Table Mountain. It's really high. At Maclears beacon, it's more than a kilometre above sea level. On the second day we were in Capetown we tried to go to Robben Island but there were no tickets so we watched a magic show on the waterfront. We worked out only a couple of tricks. There were also lots of playgrounds.