South Africa: Canyons, Plains and Game

South Africa has been a much different experience than the Eastern parts of the continent.  Despite widespread significant social and economic difficulties, the country has first world infrastructure making it feel a world away from our previous stops. Roads are smooth and municipal water is drinkable in the larger cities.  At times it is even possible to forget that you are traveling in Africa.

Our trip was structured differently in South Africa than our visits in other countries.  We had the pleasure of having Grant’s parents join us for two weeks for their first visit to the continent.  We got a local guide to drive us around and teach us about the flora and fauna of his country.  He provided us with pictures at the end of the trip which will be found throughout this post.  One notable difference in South Africa from other areas of Africa is the ability to travel without a guide.  It is safer and less chaotic, and many of the game reserves allow self driven vehicles.

The four of us did a private safari through the eastern portion of the country which took us through Blyde River Canyon, Kruger National Park, Swaziland, Tembe Game Reserve, Kosi Bay, and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.  We ended in Durban and took a flight to Cape Town for the final two weeks of our visit in Africa.Screenshot 2017-09-13 20.35.24The private safari offers many benefits compared to the large group style safari.  There is more schedule flexibility plus the ability to customize the trip to your preferences.  We got to incorporate more activity in this portion with hikes and walks to break up the long days sitting on safaris.  Overall we spent much less time waiting for a group to get organized and significantly less time traveling.  The downside is higher cost, but you can find trips that balance cost with experience and limit unnecessary travel time.

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We flew into Johannesburg from Victoria Falls after the end of our camping safari through Eastern Africa.  While on the runway in Vic Falls, we got to see Zimbabwe’s infamous President Robert Mugabe boarding his plane to our right.  On our way from Johannesburg, we stopped to visit the beautiful Bourke’s Luck Potholes along the route.

Our first overnight stop was in Blyde River Canyon for some much needed hiking to prepare us for our upcoming trekking trip to Nepal.  This is one of the largest canyons on Earth and is an amazing place to explore on foot.  We stayed by the edge of the canyon where baboons are found amongst the cabins.  We had a memorable encounter with a large one when it ran into our cabins to snatch a bag of coffee and some creamer as we watched.

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We did a half day point to point hike by linking the Tufa Trail to the Guinea Fowl Trail and then into the Leopard Trail.  There are amazing views of Blyde River, the canyon walls, and the Three Rondavels (three round mountains which resemble traditional rondavel style huts) throughout the trip.

Following this stop, we moved on to Kruger National Park for some game sighting.  This is one of the largest game reserves in Africa with a large density of animals, including all of the Big 5.  We saw an impressive number of animals as we explored the plains, including a large pride of lions which we came across on a night safari.

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We stayed inside the park in huts at Satara Camp which put us in close proximity to the wildlife.  Small camps are set up around Kruger where we stopped for food or breaks along the way.  Of particular annoyance, monkeys and birds have made their living on stealing food from visitors.  We had several experiences where food was snatched from our table or the kitchen counter during prep as we fruitlessly yelled at unapologetic wildlife.  The picture below is of a vervet monkey eating the jelly from a container snatched from our breakfast table as we ate.  monkey thief (1 of 1)After Kruger, we drove into Swaziland for the night as we continued towards the coast.  In contrast many of our other African border crossing experiences, this one was extremely fast and efficient with no lines, visa requirements or fees for entry or exit.  We stayed in traditional Swazi beehive huts in Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary, where animals roam amongst the visitors.  Since there is no predatory game at this conservation park, we took advantage of doing an self-guided walking safari.img_4221-1There is a nightly bonfire with traditional Swazi dance.  Several of the local warthogs joined us to keep warm.

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Through the southern part of Swaziland we crossed back over into South Africa to our next stop at Tembe Elephant Park.  This is a private game reserve with an impressive density of elephants, although it does house all of the Big 5.  We ended up in the middle of a herd of elephants on several occasions, with no where to go but sit quietly and hope not to attract too much attention.

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We were lucky enough to witness a young lioness chase a buffalo at the watering hole at the end of our visit.

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As with every park, the poaching patrol can be found ready to protect the reserve.img_4331-1Our park guide also brought us to see a local school and palm wine farm.  The palm wine operation was one of the most professional and sanitary processes which we have ever witnessed.  Bees and flies are free of charge.

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We stayed near Kosi Lake which borders the Indian Ocean and took a boat ride through the wetlands.  The locals still practice traditional sustainable trap fishing methods which date back centuries.  The traps, shown below, are made of sticks and reeds and tied with thick fiber stripped from the leaves of wild banana palms.  They are family owned and passed down between generations.

Our last stop was Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve for some more safari time.  We had an absolute Rhino extravaganza, with over 30 sightings in two days which completed our Big 5 for the trip.  We witnessed two rhinos pushing around a pride of lions, and one taking a mud bath in the sun.  The best sighting of the trip was in this park at the very end, when three critically endangered wild dogs crossed our path.

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After this park, we drove to Durban for our flight to Cape Town to finish our trip in Africa.  This city is discussed in the subsequent Cape Town: Mountains, Beaches & Vineyards post due to our volume of activity in the area.img_4928


Make sure to check out other posts from our adventures including our trek through Nepalcamper van-cation around Tasmania, stop in Indonesian paradise and misadventures in India.  They are sure to inspire your lust for travel!

Feeling like long term travel needs to be in your future?  Stop by our Trip Planning posts, where you can learn how to prepare for a lengthy trip, see how to never check your bags on planes, find out about travel security and make sense of travel insurance, amongst others.

If you want to see more safari pictures, check out Nigel Anderson’s Photography website.

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