Wednesday, 26 April 2017

PANDAS IN SOUTH AFRICA 2017

PANDAS IN SOUTH AFRICA 2017

Day 1: 26 April

It's been 6 years since my last long leave, when we travelled from Sandton to the Serengeti. The 4 month trip took us through Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Zimbabwe and Botswana. 

My long leave 2017, started on 13 May, leaving school with with an excited bunch of kids as they embarked on their Easter holidays. I return on 4 September and since Gray is ‘retired’, we have 5 months of freedom to pursue our passion for travel. For the past 2 weeks we have caught up with friends and family, celebrating Easter – still hiding the kids Easter eggs, although it's now bottles of wine – my dads 88th birthday and Gray's birthday. A highlight was dinner at the Saxon, thanks to Gareth and the LDRS team.

We have decided on this trip to travel around our beautiful South Africa, there is so much in our own country we still have to explore and many old favorites to revisit. We are also at a funny stage of our lives where we seem to be in the middle of being responsible for aging in-laws and ‘adult’ children and so don't want to venture to far from civilization. 

This time we leave behind our 2 wonderful old dogs, one blind and one deaf, our 2 beloved cats and Gray’s 4 Indian runner ducks. The dogs and cats are low maintenance and just want love and food.  The ducks on the other hand are high maintenance and want no love. They have to be put in their ‘Duckingham Palace’ enclosure before sunset  or they sleep (and crap) in the swimming pool all night. Looking after them appears to be a tall ask for Gareth and Kirsty, both complaining that this will be difficult due to onerous work commitments. The problem is that as baby boomers, our generation has molly coddled our Gen Y and millennial children to the point that they find adulting difficult . Hopefully we will get back to our house still standing.

Ducks in the dog baskets this morning

The idea this long leave is go where the wind blows. Our starting point is KwaZulu Natal, to attend a wedding in Greytown on Saturday. We will then move onto Northern Natal and return home for a few days for another wedding. Originally, we were to leave on Friday but managed to get a last minute booking at Granny Mouse Country House in the Midlands for 2 nights, so we packed up and left this morning.

We are traveling lighter this time, no trailer and less ammo boxes of tools and spares. The main reason being that our old 2000 Discovery has been replaced with a new 2017 model. It was sad to put the trusted old vehicle out to pasture after so many years and 1000s of km through deserts, rivers and over mountain passes. However, I cannot lie, I love the comfort and smooth ride of our new car. Gray is really going to miss not having something to fix along the way.

Our new Discovery

The other upgrade of this trip is thanks to technology. Blogging has become so much easier, as I discovered on our Namibia trip, thanks to my Ipad. Writing, pics and posting are a one stop shop, all done on one device. I remember the Pandas in Africa trip; the struggles of a broken lap top screen, uploading and jpegging photos from my camera, linking the lap top up to a pay as you go phone, after hiking up to the top of a hill to post our blog.

Today,  after a pleasant drive drive down the N3, we took the Balgowan turn off and drove through the beautiful Natal midlands. The peaceful rolling hills are known as the land of milk and honey, where black and white Ayrshire cows  graze the farmlands. 

We were welcomed at Granny Mouse Country House with a glass of champagne, good start. I love staying at this thatched cottage retreat nestled in the valley of natural bush on the Lion’s River. The accommodation is elegant and cosy. I love walking through the beautiful, overgrown gardens with their quirky signs; like ‘butterfly crossing’, ‘shhh the bulbs are sleeping’ and at the entrance ‘everybirdy  is welcome’. Great start to our trip.

Granny Mouse

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Namibia Trip 2015 Post Mortem

We travelled 7562km in 27 days. We visited some old favorite areas and many new ones, that will be added to the favorites list.  We travelled from the southern tip of Namibia to its Northern border and from the coast on the Atlantic Ocean to the Eastern Border into Botswana. I feel we really got a sense of Namibia this trip. The German influence that I had always attached so strongly to Namibia, applies predominantly in the Southern regions up to Swakopmund, from there it becomes more African, more third world, dominated by original people and cultures.

The total area of Namibia is 823 290 square km (Spain & Germany combined), with a population of 2.3 million, making it one of the most sparsely populated countries. This is not surprising as 80% of the country is desert. They have around 300 days of sunshine per year.

Many thanks to our wonderful travel companions; Tony, Al, George and Sue, who travelled the long roads and visited the amazing, diverse and interesting places with us. It was great to have a laugh, with drink in hand, as the sun sun set each day. Time to start planning for next year.

Statistics:

Losses & Replacements:
George: slops, mattress and washing up bucket... and nearly a peak cap.
Tony: 4 tyres and 1 battery.
Gray: 1 tyre puncture and his dignity at a certain waterhole.

Gains:
All: an amazing month of exploring Namibia (2 weeks for George and Sue).
George: passing the 600 mark on his bird list, adding a whole flock of lifers.
Al: finding new places to shop at.

A huge thanks to all our friends, family and people from all around the world, who we have never met, for following the blog. Thanks for your messages and support, it is greatly appreciated.

Thanks to our 3 children, we missed you and wished you could have traveled with us, pity you had to grow up and become responsible. At times I wondered if hauling you off to some southern African country to sleep in a tent, instead of chilling on the beach at Plett with your friends, was ok. Robs, aged 5, learned to read while traveling along the long Namibian roads, it was where Gareth learned to change a tyre and there were no shops for Kirst. Since they all want to still join us on our trips, I guess they have appreciated some of the adventures; being forced to play closer to the tent in Central Kalahari because the lions were right there, Robs and Jen (Purchase) found a Warthog in their bed at Bray and so on…… We also needed someone to sort out the home fires; a blown up electrical box and Escom – thanks Ga and Kirst.

As always a grateful thanks to Panda for his vision, planning, investigating and basically making our African adventures possible. A mention must go to our trusty, Discovery – 14 years old and 220 000 km under the belt, she came alive on the 4x4 sections.


“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open” Jawaharal Nehru.








Day 27: Kang: Botswana to Home: Sandton, South Africa

We left Kang at 8:00, after breakfast and refueling. The trip home took us via Jwaneng and Kanye, which was bigger than I expected, to the Border Post, then into SA, via Zeerust and Rustenburg – it was around 700km. The road to Jwaneng was again more like driving along a farm road than a highway. We had donkeys, cattle, ostriches and goats all over the road.

We had a quick and painless border crossing  at Pioneer on the Botswana side and Skilpadsnek on the S.A. side. It looks like they are in the process of building a drive-thru border post, that makes sense. We can't complain however as we are still the only African country we have been to that is computerised.

The road into Zeerust was very busy, we are not used to traffic. It was also cold, 12 deg, and overcast. After Zeerust, the heavens opened and we drove in rain for most of the way home. It was nice to get home, the animals were pleased to see us (except Morgan, the cat, who will punish us for at least a week). Can't wait to catch up with the kids: Ga was at work, Kirst away on a business trip and Robs still in Stellenbosch.



Day 26: Etosha to Kang in Botswana

We woke at 5, forget the sunken bath, nothing beats a hot outdoor bush shower. We wolfed down breakfast at the restaurant.  They have a system here where breakfast is included in the price of the room. Filled up with diesel, checked out and drove out of Namatoni at 6:30. 

It was a 10km drive to Von Lindquist Gate. Gray and I have been looking for Damara Dik Dik for 3 days and we saw 3 on our way out – typical. At the gate we and the car were foot and mouth decontaminated: we had to walk over the disgusting wet carpet, while the car tyres were sprayed.  I know this is a serious business but the irony is I was wearing talkies that I had not worn since entering the area and my slops that I had been wearing will arrive home full of Etosha sand.
 
We drove toward Tsumeb and then onto Otjiwarongo and then took the C30 to Gobabis. I was very surprised at Otjiwarongo, it is a neat, tidy town and a whole lot bigger than expected and more modern than I expected. It means ‘pleasant place’ or ‘place where fat cattle graze’, I didn't see any fat cattle but it certainly was pleasant.

The scenery along this mornings drive was pretty, with lots of trees. We passed a number of game farms and loads of warthogs foraging on the side of the road. The tarred road to the C30 was a good road.  The C30 to Gobabis was 320km of also good dirt road, it bypassed Windhoek and shaved around 120km off our journey. It was an area of farms, game and cattle, lots of grass and trees – we have left the desert areas behind. I thought we might be dodging donkeys on this stretch of road but it was wildlife, at one stage a gemsbok ran across the road right in front of us.

We crossed over ‘Die Dam’, a dam about the size of Emmerentia and entered the town of Gobabis, it has all the amenities of a busy town: like Vleis Paleis, Pep Stores and a Street Style Fashion Store, to name a few. We elected not to stop at the ATM, Fuel Station and Take-away, the queues were hectic. We pushed onto Buitepos, stopping to change a tyre 10km before the border. I thought it was too good, getting through Namibia without a puncture.

We filled up with diesel at Buitepos and drove 2km to the  Mamuno Border Post between Namibia and Botswana. We arrived at around 2:45 and left around 4:15, it took around ½ an hour but we need to set our clocks forward an hour.  If we had done the border crossing tomorrow, we would have been in the same zone, as Namibia reverts back on the first weekend in September.

If we thought we had problems dodging animals on the Namibian roads, we had bigger ones dodging livestock in Botswana.  There are no farm fences and the cattle, donkeys and goats cross the main road at will, it is very dangerous.

Four very weary travelers arrived at Kang Ultra Lodge around 7:30, we had been traveling for 12 ½ hours. We had only stopped for fuel, a tyre change and a border crossing and hadn't eaten a meal since we had inhaled breakfast at Namatoni.  

Kang Ultra Lodge is a great stop over on your way to or from Namibia or into Northern Botswana. It is a clean and comfortable overnighter, with a restaurant next door. After dinner we fell into bed.





Day 25: Etosha: Halali to Namutoni

We woke up early. Al and Tony are heading home and George and Sue went to the waterhole, leaving embarrassed Morries behind. We had a delicious breakfast in the restaurant and set off on the 70km drive to Namutoni, along the pan.

As we left camp, our first sighing was the black faced Impala, they have a black strip running from their forehead to the tip of their noses.The sweet grassveld and mopani treeveld on the side of the road was totally grey for around 50m, caused by the dust from the limestone road, then it reverted back to it's natural state.

The word ‘etosha’ means ‘Great White Place’. The park was proclaimed in 1907 and covers around 22 912 square km. The Pan itself, covers 4731 square km (110km at it’s widest by 60km). The pan is mostly dry, except when the Morrison's visit – and in the rainy season. There are permanent springs in the southern section, fed by porous bedrock which permeates out onto the clay floor of the pan. We took a 3km detour off the main road to Etosha Lookout. Standing on the edge of the pan made one realise just how enormously vast and desolate this area is, devoid of all life. It was white clay from horizon to horizon – a spectacular view.

Back on the road we saw a flock of 40 ostriches, white rhino, a couple of herds of elephants, lots of before mentioned enteral game and more black faced  impala. It was fascinating to see springbok and Impala grazing together. Another fascinating observation was the vast numbers present in the herd – 20 odd giraffe together, herds of 30 to 40 kudu and so on.

We sat at Chudop waterhole for a while watching 3 big male elephants drink, with herds of zebra and kudu waiting their turn. We then headed into Namutoni  camp.

Namutoni camp was originally a fort built in 1902, destroyed by the Owambos in 1904 and rebuilt in 1906, it is a national monument. The waterhole in the camp was first noticed by John Anderson and Francis Galton, the first Europeans to discover the camp in 1851. We stayed in a very comfortable chalet, with a sunken bath and an outside shower.

As the afternoon started to cool, it was 35 degrees, we went for a sundown drive around
Fischer’s Pan, it was a beautiful drive and strange to see palms trees at Twee Palms. An ellie was scratching himself against the palm, when a lapped faced vulture landed in it, the ellie banged is full weight against the tree and poor vulture was knocked off his perch and flew away squawking madly.

We ate dinner at the restaurant, at one of the outside tables, and we were visited by a jackal. I went to bed with a heavy heart, this was our last night of real holiday, tomorrow we begin our nearly 2000km journey home.






Day 24: Etosha – Olifantsrus to Halali

"After a good nights sleep, I headed off to the showers. Being kind of a bunny hugger I really appreciate the whole Eco camp philosophy, that is until you have a cold morning shower, as the solar power hasn't worked its magic at 6 in the morning. Olifantsrus is a nice camp but we felt they could have done more – they could have made the camp areas a little more private and had more showers.

After coffee we packed up and went back to the view site. As the area is so dry, the waterholes are all teaming with game and birds. This morning I added kudu, jackal and another 3 birds to our list.

We left camp for the 190 km trip around 8:30. We stopped at all the waterholes on route, they are usually a few hundred meters off the road. You soon got to pick up which waterholes had water and which didn't, those that didn't had no  signs of life around. 

At Sonderkop waterhole we saw more animals around the small water hole than I have ever seen: herds of red hartebeest, zebra, springbok, gemsbok, wildebeest, warthog, ostrich, jackal and guinea fowl all crowded around, waiting for their turn to drink before loping off. There was no vegetation for hundreds of meters around. There was definitely a sense of agitation as the animals waited their turn, the plaintive cry of the wildebeest and the bark of the zebra were most prominent.

At the next waterhole,Ozonjutji m’Bari, we again had herds of zebra, gemsbok, wildebeest and springbok. There was more water and the atmosphere was less frenetic, which was surprising considering there were 3 lionesses under one tree and a mating pair under another – the male was huge with a black mane. What a life, food and water on tap – it would be like Kirst living next to Sandton City.

We stopped at Okaukuejo, with it’s big castle turret like structure for lunch. The last time we were here here, I climbed to the top of the castle with Robs. I gave her a call, nice to have reception in the camp, and was relieved to hear the doctor was happy that she was on the mend. She was more concerned about the effect of being on meds on her social life and thought it ‘sucked’ because she was not with us.

From Okaukeujo we headed past the southern section of the pan. On our last visit the pan was full of water. We also added elephants and birds to our list along the way and we saw some big sociable weaver nests. 

At Halali, we met up with Al and Tony again. It is really nice camp, reminds me a lot of the Kruger National Park camps. We did another sunset hide visit, at this one you sit on a bank of rocks overlooking the waterhole. We arrived to a herd of ellies and a black rhino drinking. It was fascinating to see a standoff between the two. Our memories of this viewing will be somewhat marred by my usually law abiding husband not taking much note of the ‘Be Silent’ sign; a noisy drinks pouring session, followed by his pinging cellphone, then the loud sneezing, topping it off with a fart – and very dirty looks from all around.

We slunk back to our very comfortable hut for chicken potjie for dinner.








Friday, 4 September 2015

Day 23: Swartboois drift to Etosha – Olifantsrus Camp

I was wakened by the chirping of the thousands of chestnut weavers in the tall reed bed outside our room. What a great way to start spring.

We left the Kunene River lodge at 8:30 and travelled 48km to our first stop, Ruacana Falls. We passed a number of nomadic Himba villages, then through a mountainous area, with some pretty steep roads and back into dry mopani regions. During this section we clocked over 5000km on this trip so far.

We came over a mountain and the Caleque Dam and Ruacana Hydroelectric scheme were across the valley on the next mountain. The section from the hydroelectric power station to the falls was on a tar road, our first in a long time. 

The falls were a touch disappointing, as the rock face with cascading waterfalls one sees in pictures were completely dry.  There was a section of waterfall lower down to our left of the cliff face but nowhere near as impressive as Epupa Falls.

Our next stretch was 20km on tarred road into Ruacana for fuel and to buy a new battery for Tony as his has been flat for the last couple of days. It is also here that Tony and Al head off towards Namatoni in Etosha, they are changing around the last few days of the trip to arrive home earlier.

At Ruacana they had a decent fuel station, with a general dealer store with arb items, like back scratchers. Tony managed to get a battery, while he and Gray installed it, George spied out birds – at the fuel station :). The town from what we could see were mainly pre-fab structures, post war relics I guess. I chatted to our girls – bit concerned about Robs who has an infection in the bone between her brain and ear, but she is on medication and ensures me she is fine.

We passed the Ruacana Air Force Base and turned right to Otjondeka and Kumanjab, the others carried on straight via Oshakati to Namatoni. George and Sue are only going 50km on the Oshakati road in search of the Grey Kestrel and will double back to meet us at Olifantsrus. We are going ahead to secure a nice camp site for the night. We were pleasantly surprised to find the road newly tarred took us the whole way to Etosha. The road was however not plain sailing, the speed limit of 120km/hour didn't apply as we were constantly stopping for cattle, donkeys and goats to cross the road – it was probably more dangerous than the mountain passes. There was however very little traffic.

The area was again mainly mopani vegetation, so dry the majority didn't have leaves. There were small areas of Himba populations, where the Ovahimba women had cultivated small field of mohangu. The temperature was 31 degrees, it goes up to around 45 deg in summer.

I guess it has been school holidays, during our trip, as all the schools along the way have been closed, except for the odd bush school lessons we have seen taking place.  Today, however we noticed a few children walking along the road near one of the small towns in school uniform – no mom’s 4x4, au pair or even a taxi.

At Werda, we were stopped at a veterinary control point. They sprayed our tyres and we has to walk over a wet mat. They checked our car fridge for meat, as were not allowed to take meat through due to foot and mouth. We had stopped earlier and hidden chicken and sausages on the roof rack, amongst the camping equipment. These  items are permitted but we didn't want to take chances with our dinner. 

We arrived at Gallton Gate at Etosha around 2:15, booked in and paid. Gray then spent the next ½ hour assisting a Cape Town couple pump up their tyres with his portable pump. The first few kilometers along the white dust road was still mopani, then it opened up into beautiful bush area; yellow grass littered with typical African bush trees. We didn't see much on the road but the water holes were a different story. At one we saw a black rhino (minus horn), wildebeest, red hartebeest, springbok, zebra and a giraffe.

Olifantsrus, is an old elephant culling station, that has been turned into an eco campsite. They have an amazing double story hide overlooking a waterhole. We headed up there for another amazing African sunset and to watch the animals come down to drink. 

We then set up camp and started dinner. As we are nearing the end of our journey, so are our provisions. We also didn't have Al keeping control – she would have platzed at our less than gourmet attempts.  Firstly, no table cloth, the delicious meal of Russian sausages, cheese wors with mustard sauce and beans with chilli, garlic, ginger and anything else we could find was all eaten straight off the braai and out the pots – no plates to wash !!

The boys headed off to bed after a long days drive. Sue and I returned to the hide, where they have a red light illuminating the area. We saw brown hyena, black rhino, eland and marsh and barn owls. All in all, today was a great start to our animal viewing list in Etosha.

My camp mattress is getting more comfortable or maybe on our last night of camping I was just getting used to sleeping on the ground, or more likely it was listening to the sound of laughing hyenas and my favorite sound of the bush, roaring lions, and they were close.