March 2017 Traveller's Blog

SOUTH AFRICA TOUR 14th till 23rd March 2017

We made sure we got to the airport at Brisbane in plenty of time for our 7.00 am flight to Sydney but because of bad weather in Sydney our flight was delayed 45mins in take off and then when we arrived in Sydney there was a plane with two flat tyres sitting on the apron which delayed our disembarkation by another half hour. Some of the people from our flight were able to board the flight to Johannesburg but unfortunately we were too far back in the queue and the flight took off without us. Qantas then booked us on a flight to Perth where we had to wait eight hours before we could board a flight to Johannesburg. As a peace offering they paid a taxi to a motel where we had use of a room for a few hours.

Our flight left Perth at midnight getting us into Johannesburg at 4.00 a.m. where we then had to purchase a ticket for the 6.00 a.m. to Cape Town where Kevin met us and from there on we had no more worries as everything was all organised for us. There had been rain early in the morning which resulted in there being at least four accidents on the freeway and that played havoc with the peak hour traffic. The wonderful group we were travelling with decided to stay in the hotel and delay the start of outing until we arrived and had had showers and change of clothes. ( 36 hours after we left home.)

With our driver Maroof and tour leader Conroy we headed north towards The Winelands through some lovely Stellenbosch countryside with our first stop at Kanonkop Winery for our first wine tasting. It was very busy and this meant that the noise level was high. The five wines we tasted were good but as Ken and I are not red wine drinkers it was hard to impress us. We did enjoy seeing the art exhibition and also all the barrels of wine and the vintage bottles.

Moving on to Tokara Winery with a beautiful mountainous backdrop we had a delicious lunch from the menu in a relaxed setting and we could chat to our fellow travellers. Ken and I choose the pork belly which just melted in our mouths.

Our wine tasting at La Motte winery was more formal with us in a private room set at a table and this time we could appreciate what the girl was telling us about each of the seven wines.

Maroof took us along a scenic route back into Cape Town and had us back at the City Lodge Hotel in time to refresh and regroup before he drove us down to Victoria Centre on the Waterfront for dinner. Ken and I collapsed into bed about 9.00 p.m. and slept right through till 6.00 a.m. on Thursday (16th March) morning.

The early start of 7.00 a.m. on a bright sunny morning meant that we got through the city and up to the Table Mountain cable car before the crowds. Weatherwise the day was just perfect the whole day. This car holds 65 persons each trip and it is the only cable car we have been in that the floor does a complete rotation as it ascends which means everyone gets the same view. On the top of Cable Mountain the paths are very well laid out and easy to follow even for those with mobility problems. Walking the tracks we took in the spectacular views all the way over the Atlantic Ocean and then over Table Bay and Cape Town but were disappointed we did not see any wildlife scurrying around. Signal Hill looking very majestic bathed in the sunshine. All too soon we were back to take the 9.15 a.m. car back down the mountain to start our very scenic drive around the Cape Peninsula.

On the coach the twisty road of Cable Mountain Way took us to Cape Point at Hout Bay where we stopped to marvel at Chapmans Peak across the bay. Eager merchants were at every stopping point trying to sell their wares and we were also struck by the number of people just sitting along the roadside waiting for someone to offer them employment. This coastal drive is so picturesque it is better to have someone else do the driving so that you can enjoy the changing scenery around every corner. So many tourists had made it to Cape of Good Hope lighthouse before us we could hardly get parked in the car park and then the queue to enjoy the ride up to the lighthouse via the funicular railway was too long so we resorted to walking halfway up to the lighthouse. Here we saw an ostrich grazing unaware of all the visitors enjoying the views.

All too soon we had to leave and make our way around to Cape Point which is the most SW point of South Africa where we were amazed at the amount of kelp in the sea. Back out of the National Park and the next stop was to see the penguins on Boulders Beach at Sea Forth just swimming or sitting on the beach as we gazed at them from the walkway. To get down to the penguin colony we again had to make our way past merchants who had plenty of goods on display but our minds were on lunch which was just down the road in Simons Town at Saveur waterfront restaurant where the service and food were excellent. Today was so full of wonderful scenery it was hard to take it all in but Conroy our tour guide kept us well informed of all the local history.

Conroy and Maroof left us back at our hotel about 4.30 p.m. in time to refresh before walking down to Waterfront place for dinner at Quay Four where we again had a lovely meal in great surroundings. Wendy celebrated her 70th birthday and a birthday cake completed our over indulgence for the day before walking back to our hotel.

We wakened to a very foggy morning on Friday 17th March (St Patrick’ Day) but it was lifting by the time we were making our way to the airport midmorning. Our visit to Cape Town has finished and so starts the Johannesburg section of the trip. We were very aware of the drought situation as we flew out of Cape Town but the landscape was much greener as we were approaching Johannesburg.

We travelled to the hotel at Sandton through the rush hour traffic which has given us a whole new perspective on the traffic in and around S.E.Queensland. Our hotel for the next two nights is set in lovely grounds surrounded by a very high fence and we have been advised not to wander outside of the fence by ourselves. We were picked up at 6.30 p.m. and taken to the suburb of Melrose to Moyo restaurant for an “African Experience” which started off with having our hands washed in rose water followed by face painting …………..even the men. Our taste buds got a work out as each dish was served up which included Mopane which are grubs but we enjoyed the meal and atmosphere with the beat of African music.

Daniel is our driver and Henry our local tour guide for the next few days so they picked us up at 9.30 a.m. on Saturday. Our travels today took us NW of the city to Lesedi Cultural Village getting there just before 11.00 a.m. which gave us time to have a look at the wares on offer and also time to grab a coffee before the show started at 11.30 a.m. with a video presentation of the history of the five different tribes coming together. Then the visitors were split into three groups and taken on a fact finding tour of the different villages within the complex and we all returned to the main area so that we could experience all the energetic dances. All up the show lasted for two hours.

Then it was on the bus and off to Maropeng Visitors Centre which is the Cradle of Humankind arriving at 2.30 p.m. Our tour was booked for 3.00p.m. so our lunch was really a “grab and go”. Of course we were all very hungry so lunch took priority for the half hour. Norman was our guide through the visitors centre and was a really nice young man who made sure we all understood the history and purpose of the centre. A boat ride through the evolution of time was included which was interesting. So much information in one place and it was impossible to take it all in the time available to us. Leaving the centre at 4.20 p.m. we made our way back to our hotel at 5.40 p.m. which gave us enough time to freshen up to go out for dinner at 7.00 p.m. to Monte Casino.

During our drive through the county side we saw vervet monkeys, wart hogs, wilder beast, lions, bison and a giraffe. Sunday morning we were on the road for 8.00 a.m. as we had a long drive of 380 kms ahead of us to get to Hippo Hollow. Our drive took us through some interesting and varied country side where we passed coal mines, wheat, citrus, and banana farms as well as cattle grazing. We had stops on four occasions along the way including lunch at Millys at Machado which was on the edge of a lake with plenty trout in it. The bakery was offering trout pies but we had trout and avocado salad.

Getting into Hippo Hollow at 3.30p.m. meant we were able to have a good walk around the grounds but saw no hippos on our walk however when we went down for dinner at 6.00 p.m. there was a hippo grazing on the front lawn. We joined a cultural experience of dance and singing before traditional foods for dinner. The show was quite similar to one we had seen earlier in the week and I must admit I did not try all the meats on offer but I did have wart hog ribs which were very tasty. We had a shower of rain for half an hour before dinner.

On Monday morning (20th) we were in the coach and on our way at 9.00 a.m. to explore the Panorama Route to the Blyde River canyon which is the third biggest canyon in the world. The forest clad cliffs make this canyon different and is often referred to as the “Green Canyon”. Henry our guide suggested that we make our way through Graskop and right up to the canyon and work our way back so as to be in Graskop for lunch. It is evident that a great deal of work is going on in the forest with cuttings and then replanting large areas. When we arrived the ladies toilet was out of action so the men and woman were all ushered into the one small building together so that was a new experience.

Less than five minutes later the cry went up that a lady had fallen and broken her leg and as she was not travelling with a tour group our guide Henry who used to be an ambulance driver sprung into action and took charge of the situation. It took one and half hours for the ambulance to arrive and it was closely followed by a second one. All through her ordeal Henry, Kevin and Steven stayed with the 72 year old comforting her and making sure she was OK. This changed our plans and we only had time to see Gods Window which is 1829m above sea level and the views stretch out as far as Mozambique. No camera can do the spectacular views justice. We did get back to Graskop for a late lunch at Harries Pancakes leaving there at 3.00 p.m. for our journey back to Hippo Hollow. A group of baboons ran across the road in front of our bus.

Most of our group wanted to get a few things so we were let loose in a shopping centre for half an hour and for the first time on this trip the black people out numbered the white people.

Our buffet dinner was on the back deck overlooking the river but the hippo teased us only making brief appearances in the river and never got out onto land.

Tuesday morning we had an 8.00 a.m. leaving Hippo Hollow as we had to have Henry at the airport 120kms away in time for a flight back to Johannesburg. The countryside was dotted with small towns and villages some of which we neater than others.

We were too early to get into our rooms when we got to Kapama Lodge but we had a beautiful lounge area to sit in and relax. This is really a very up market place. During lunch which was served at 1.00p.m.we were entertained by the monkeys on the verandas sneaking into the restaurant when the staff were not looking. High tea was served at 4.00 p.m. before the evening safari at 4.30 p.m. We had six people in our vehicle so that meant we had plenty of room to move to get photos. We saw impala, rhinos, wart hogs, hyena and two zebras before returning to the lodge in time for dinner at 8.00 p.m.

A 5.00 a.m. wake up call on Wednesday morning to make sure we had a cuppa before going on safari at 6.oo a.m. This morning there was a greater variety of animals roaming around. We saw zebras, wilde beast, and giraffes sharing the same waterhole with a couple of jackal lurking nearby. Impala were to be seen throughout our drive in various areas and a couple of kudu. Three lions were having a morning rest beside the road and continued to do so even with us so close. After some time one of them wandered up into the scrub to join the rest of the pack. The water buffalo sat contented in the muddy water and just stared back at us. A herd of elephants were having breakfast by stripping the bark off trees and then they carefully separated the bark and only ate part of it and discarded the rest on the ground.

We were back by 9.00 a.m. for breakfast before a welcome shower and change of clothes. Ken and I choose to visit the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre so we got picked up at 12.30 p.m. and taken there by one of the rangers who waited for us and brought us back. There were cheetahs, wild dogs along with 2 hornbill birds. All the animals here are endangered so this is more of an educational place but they like to encourage visitors as it all helps with keeping the place running.

We were back in time for high tea before going out for our afternoon safari when we saw another large variety of animals starting off with a giraffe drinking at a waterhole and finishing our safari with two owls. Along the way we encountered a mother rhino with baby, kudu with large curly horns, a buffalo sitting in water, zebras and impala so all up we have seen a great selection of animals.

Dinner tonight was very special as it was set up on the river bed beyond the swimming pool. The white tablecloths, sparkling glassware and the lanterns all added to the ambience. Kevin gave each couple a USB stick with a selection of pictures taken by everyone which we all thought was a great gesture.

Another 5.00 a.m. wake up call for our final safari on Thursday morning. The animals must have been avoiding us as we did not see so many but we did see a hyena, hippos in one of the waterholes, vultures up in a tree and then a few wart hogs, impalas and giraffes. We had a shortened safari as we needed to get on the road for Johannesburg by 9.00 a.m.

Our route took us on the very scenic drive past the top end of the Blyde River Canyon through the JG Strijdom Tunnel as we made our way to Lydenburg and finally joining the N4 at Belfast. There was a great deal of road works along this road and we got held up numerous times. Our lunch stop was at a servo and as we were pushed for time we had take away which we ate whilst the bus was travelling. We encountered heavy rainfall as we approached Johannesburg and this then had the inevitable number of prangs which again slowed the traffic.

Finally we made it to the airport at 4.30p.m and as the traffic was chaotic the farewells were brief. 5 were flying back to Sydney, the family of 5 were staying in Johannesburg for a few days whilst Ken and I were staying overnight at the African Rock and our limo arrived to pick us up. It was still raining as we drove to our hotel which is 20 mins drive from airport. This is a very exclusive boutique hotel catering for a max of 18 guests. It was such a change to have a small dining room to enjoy our five course dinner.

Sadly our escorted African Tour has come to an end but we did have a great time and packed so much into the time we had.

Written by Anne Wilson