South Africa

It is about 3pm in the afternoon. I am sitting at my desk, booking a holiday for a client, when my boss comes out his office and asks: fancy a trip to South Africa? Are you kidding me, I ask? No, he’s not! All of a sudden I have to rush home to pack my suitcase.

Day 1: from Amsterdam to Johannesburg

The next morning I fly with KLM to Johannesburg, having no idea what to expect on this trip. My boss send me the program so I can read a bit, but I did not have time to look up anything, but the bigger the surprise will be. The flight is comfortable and I am lucky enough to fly economy comfort class (extra leg space). After about 10 hours I put my feet on South African soil. It is evening, there is no difference in time zone, so no jet lag; how great is that!

I am with a group of other travel agents, the trip is offered by TUI and we are greeted by a representative of AAA (African Ample Assistance). Some of us get some Rand at the ATM before we leave the airport. We have a quick transfer to our overnight hotel The Airport Grand, which is less than a 10 minutes drive from the airport. It is around midnight, so I cannot see that much from the hotel. We get welcomed with a drink. The reception does not have my name but my colleague’s name on the list and they have to make some changes. One of the girls offers to be my roommate for this trip and I have a feeling we will get on just fine! We go to sleep, it is very late and we have to get up early, for we have a long drive ahead of us.

Day 2: from Johannesburg to Timbavati

After breakfast I walk around the hotel; all is still quiet. The hotel looks good, the rooms were fine and it is used often as a conference centre. But there is a pool for those who want to go for a swim or a refreshing dip. We to check out early though.

There is no time to explore Johannesburg, but we have a great day ahead us. The roads around Johannesburg are pretty good I must see and the further inland we go, the more spectacular the scenery becomes. After about 250 kilometres we arrive in Dullstroom, it is around noon. The idea during this trip is to see the country and the accommodations the tour operator sells, but we combine the practical with either a drink or lunch. We walk to Highland Rose Country House, a peaceful haven where tourists can relax in their beautiful garden. We get offered a delicious bobotie lunch and get a tour around the property before we move on.

Once we leave Dullstroom, our driver takes us Timbavati Safari Lodge. The landscape is more mountainous and rougher. I have to pinch myself, because this time yesterday I was still sitting in my office, not knowing I would be in South Africa the next day. We arrive at Timbavati halfway the afternoon. What a beautiful place. The lodge is only 20 minutes away from the heart of the world-renowned Kruger National Park Game Reserve and lies on the border between the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. So, just a perfect location really… Apart from Kruger that are lots of other game reserves close by, so plenty to choose from!

We are warmly welcomed and get a refreshing drink. I love the rondawels (or rondavel) of Timbavati which are painted with traditional art work. We do not get a lot of time to view the lodge upon arrival, we need to check in quickly and change our clothes, because we go for a game drive at Thornybush. Whoopee… let me pinch myself again!!! Once showered, changed and ready we walk toward the jeeps, seeing warthogs running around in between our rondawels.

We have a kind ranger/driver (who is very handsome as well) and a tracker one on the look out. We go for a sunset game drive of approximately 3 hours. At the end of the afternoon there is a better chance to spot the Big Five (the elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo). Game drives are usually very early in the morning or late in the afternoon, but you can also enjoy a full day of game drive with lunch.

We go with two jeeps and first we drive a bit through the territory of the lodge. We soon come across wildebeests, giraffes and zebras. I love zebras; they all are perfectly “designed” and so pretty. And giraffes have something so graceful. After a few minutes we have to enter a large gate, behind the gate we are in Thornybush. All (private) game reserves are protected with large fencing, so that the animals are not only protected there, but cannot show up in front of your room. Well… that is the idea. It is more that the animals need protection and around the accommodations there are always people on the look out for the safety of their visitors.

The first of the Big 5 we encounter is a small group of elephants. The jeeps usually stand still and turn off their engines while admiring these beautiful giants (or other animals) and so does ours. There is a young one who is pretty curious and comes very close. But his mother does not like him coming so close and follows him, she warns us and we decide to move on :).

The second of the Big 5 I actually spot are the rhinos. But they are very far away and we cannot get closer. But we did see them. In Thornybush there are so many animals! We see more wildebeest, antelope, deer species, mongoose, zebras and beautiful birds.

It is now dark by now and the chance to spot the other three is getting smaller. But we do not give up and are rewarded and see number 3 of the Big 5. We come across lions and stop our jeep. We get to see them from up close and personal. We are advised to be quiet and not to move around too much. The male is just being lazy and not roaring but yarning on the photograph below 😉 He does not really care that we are there. The females think differently and we decide to leave them alone.

On our way back to Timbavati we see a beautiful owl who lets us admire him/her and we come across buffaloes (number 4). The only one missing from the Big 5 list is the leopard, who does not like to show itself really. But we had an amazing game drive and have seen so much. And our ranger really stretched our time in Thornybush, we got the most out of our game drive!

After the game drive we need another shower, but a delicious dinner buffet awaits us in a walled outdoor area where people come together for all kinds of occasions. It is an open-aired traditional boma in true African style. During dinner we get to see and enjoy traditional African dances. After dinner we wash off the dust from the game drive in our on suite bathroom and go to sleep in our beautiful and comfortable rondawel.

Day 3: from Timbavati to Hazyview

The next morning I wake up and have a look outside; waking up at Timbavati puts a big smile on your face. There is not a giraffe or zebra at the door, but there are warthogs. They are funny creatures and love to run around. Unfortunately we have to leave Timbavati already and I have one last look. We have breakfast, say goodbye and get back on the bus.

Today we drive the beautiful Panorama Route The scenery is beautiful and along the way we see beautiful waterfalls. If you book an organized tour or group holiday, for sure this will be part of your trip. But a self drive holiday is what I would recommend. Our first stop is The Three Rondavels. Close to the parking there are souvenir stalls with wood carved items. handmade bags and other goods. The Three Rondavels are named after Chief Maripi Mashile’s three wives: Magabolie, Magoladikwe and Maseroto and the three astonishing peaks resemble rondavels. They are also known as “The Chief and his three wives”. The site is definitely worth a visit, once at the lookout point the views are stunning. When you live in a tiny country like I do, the space is overwhelming and I need to take it all in. It is a bit hazy, but I manage to take some photographs and sit down to enjoy the view until we need to move on.

Our next stop are the impressive Bourke’s Luck Potholes, also part of the Blyde River Canyon. The Potholes were created by the coming together of the Blyde River (river of happiness) and the Treur River (river of sorrow). Craggy cliffs drop down into cylindrical potholes bubbling over into waterfalls and water slides. Wow, mother nature has done her best here for sure; it is really impressive to see. Thankfully we get free time to walk around to enjoy this amazing place. We mostly stay on the walking tracks and put our feet in one of the rivers just behind the potholes. There is not a lot of time to wander off, but that is just the way it is. If I ever should come back, this is where I would like to spend more time, walking around. But we feel blessed being here and I just keep on pinching myself if this is all real?!

Our third stop is at God’s Window. South Africa and the Drakensberg in particular are filled with natural beauty and splendour. This part of the area is special, so beautiful and the view is stunning and that is how it got its name. The panoramic view from this area is filled with rock formations, canyons and waterfalls. There are viewpoints along the length of the Blyde River Canyon and it is said that on a clear day you can see as far as the coastline of Mozambique. It is not a clear day, but the view is pretty spectacular I have to say. God’s Window is part of a 250 kilometre stretch of sheer cliffs which drop 600m down. This means we are up high and breath in clean air while admiring the view. The photograph does not do the place justice. It is really a stunning view!

We drive to Graskop, a small town in the province of Natal, where we have lunch. Graskop is known for its pancake restaurants. and we sit down at Harrie’s. Most of the restaurants are located along the main road. After lunch we move on to Pilgrims Rest. Pilgrims Rest is a historical (gold) mining town. Nowadays mostly tourists visit this little cosy town and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. There are museums and historic sites to visit in case you are interested, but we skip most and just have a quick look. There are many stalls with all kinds of souvenirs, so a good opportunity to buy some. Little kids are curious and I have some candies to give them which I took with me from home at the last minute.

After Graskop we drive to the eco-friendly Nkambeni Tented Lodge, for a refreshing drink. Of course it is also in the tour operator’s program. The lodge guarantees a real bush feeling and is located right on the border of Kruger National Park. The tents offer everything a comfortable hotel room normally has. Some are right in front of the fence of the park and some are suitable for the disabled! The communal areas are cosy and there is a wonderful swimming pool in a large, landscaped garden. At the back of the garden in the distance there is a pond behind the fence, where a few hippos are bathing. Immediately I want to go there, but there is no time.

After the tour at Nkambeni we drive to Casa Do Sol in Hazyview, where we will spend the night. We check in and my room-mate and I freshen up quickly, because we want to walk around before it gets dark. The hotel is set up like a small village. We have the luxury of being in a suite with our own little garden. The gardens around the hotel are beautifully laid out, there is an inviting swimming pool with a bar and sun beds to chill on. In the common areas there is a sitting room with a fireplace, a bar and a restaurant with a large outdoor terrace where we have dinner. The food and the wine are amazing, so far we have been spoilt and this trip is just a wonderful adventure.

Day 4: from Hazyview to Knysna

We get up early today, we have a long bus ride ahead of us (about 400 kilometres). We get a breakfast to go for on the bus and drive back to OR Tambo National Airport in Johannesburg. On the way we of course need to have a toilet stop. There is a petrol station, supermarket, shop, ATM and rest rooms. All is really clean and not at all what I expected (what did I expect?). I have booked so many client to South Africa and am so grateful I get to see a part of this amazing country!

We arrive at the airport early in the afternoon and before we go through customs, we take the escalator to the basement, where there is a huge food hall with an enormous diversity of food and drinks. I really do not know what to choose. We sit down for a while and go back up to security control. Our domestic flight to George takes about 2 hours. We have a pleasant flight with Kulula and arrive at George at the end of the afternoon. This is where our Garden Route adventure starts!

Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

March 5, 2012

Curious about part 2: the Garden Route? Keep checking the website, it will be posted soon!

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