May 19 – 25: Durban, St Lucia, Swaziland, Kruger National Park & Panoramic Route
Day 14 (May 19 Thursday): Durban – St Lucia
Today we began Part 3 of the journey with 13 passengers on board. I got up early and watched sunrise from my room. The buffet breakfast was the best we had on the whole tour. It was a hot and sunny day. At 8:30am, we headed towards Umhlanga, an expensive seaside town lined with new condominiums and holiday homes. My young friends spent their time on the beach while I took an aimless stroll till I reached the lighthouse and discovered an impressive hotel above it. I walked uphill and found my way to the lobby of Oyster Box Hotel built in elegant colonial style of architecture. The interior decoration is exquisite and charming with an African touch.
I ran into the chief engineer of the hotel who kindly took me to the top of the hotel for an unforgettable view of the lighthouse and Indian Ocean. A coffee/tea on the terrace cafe would be perfect. But as I had to rush back to the truck before 11am, I gave it a miss. If I return to Durban one day, I love to spend one night in this hotel.
Thandi prepared us a delicious wrap with mince beef on the way to St Lucia. First proclaimed by the British as a township in 1822, St Lucia is now a popular destination for visitors heading to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park. We stayed at Shonalanga Hotel for two nights.
The sun was setting fast. Martin joined me on a walk to look for a good sunset spot near the water. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong location in a wooded area without access to the river. What a pity!
We had a cultural evening. At 6pm, we had a 30-minute Zulu lesson , at the end of which I could only say ‘sawubona‘ (hello/good day). The Zulu performance of music and dance is much more enjoyable: the strong drum beats and fast leg movements are fascinating. The BBQ dinner was great too. Unfortunately, I was so full that I could not sleep till midnight. Before going to bed, I set my alarm at 4:30am as we would set off for a game drive at 5am.
Day 15 (May 20 Friday): St Lucia
My alarm did not work: I was awaken at 5am when Felis knocked on my door to ask whether I would be joining the game drive. Oh God! I got dress, brushed my teeth and picked up my day pack all within ten minutes. Punctuality is a virtue: I was embarrassed and felt ashamed.
The Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa, covers an area of 960km² of hilly topography 280km north of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal province with a road network of 300 kilometres. The Big Five game animals are all found in the park which now boasts the largest population of white rhinos (around 1600) in the world.
We set off around 5:15am and were the first group of visitors to arrive at the gate shortly after 6am. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side: it was freezing and wet. I did not have a raincoat and enough warm clothes: at times, I had to wrap myself up with the blanket provided by the driver or use it to shield off the rain. We were frozen and hungry and a cup of coffee and a light breakfast around 7am came as a relief.
The weatherlater changed for the better and the sky brightened up. I began to take my camera out. We saw three lions lying under a tree, a dozen of white rhinos and many herds of buffalo and elephants close and afar. A long line of elephants crossed the tarred road and we sat in our 4×4 vehicle to watch for over 20 minutes. There were few vehicles in the park and the hilly topography makes the game drive more interesting.
We were back to the hotel for lunch before 1pm. The next programme for today was a boat cruise to see hippos at 3pm. I decided to take a walk to see the other side of the town and ran into Nydia, an 84-years-old elegant lady who had moved here with her father. She likes the place and has raised her own family here as well. She is an excellent guide telling me about developments of St Lucia and I caught a glimpse of Indian Ocean behind the sandbar. She invited me to her beautiful house with a large garden where hippos come for a drink during the night.
At 3pm, Mat took us to the landing to board a boat for a 2-hour cruise on the river located at the edge of the 332,000ha iSimangaliso Wetland Park that comprises eight interdependent ecosystems. The park is South Africa’s first declared World Heritage Site in 1999 in recognition of the landscape, its unique ecological processes and the exceptional diversity of flora and fauna. The park’s Kosi Bay region comprises four lakes linked by a network of channels, while the estuary is one of the world’s best fly-fishing destinations. Lake St Lucia is Africa’s largest estuarine system and home to 800 hippos and 1,200 crocodiles.
We watched a few pods of hippo (about 80-100 hippos in total) along the river bank for two hours. We also saw several fish eagles and a Goliath Heron. After an early dinner, the young people went off to a pub while the oldies like me took to the bed.
Day 16 (May 21 Saturday): St Lucia – Swaziland
We made our way to the border and crossed into the Kingdom of Swaziland, a land-locked sovereign state in Southern Africa and one of Africa’s smallest countries measuring no more than 200km north to south and 130km east to west in Africa with an area of 17,364 km². The population of about 1.2 million is primarily ethnic Swazis whose language is siSwati.
Swaziland became a British protectorate after the Anglo-Boer War from 1903 to 1967. It regained its independence in September 1968. The country ruled by an absolute monarchy, is a developing country with a small economy: the GDP (PPP)and per capita is estimated to be $11.077 billion and $9,782 respectively in 2016. The majority of the country’s employment is provided by its agricultural and manufacturing sectors. HIV/AIDS is a major health issue and the estimated life expectancy is 50 years. The country is known for its culture and traditions.
We arrived in the early afternoon at the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Swaziland’s oldest reserve with an area of 4,560 ha. Thandi started cooking and we had a hot hamburger and salad for lunch. As there is no predator, visitors are allowed to roam freely.
During my walk, I met a group of young Swazis celebrating their friend’s birthday. They look smart and affluent with good jobs in the banking and IT sector. They gave me a lunch box with BBQ meat. In return, I gave chocolate to the birthday boy as a present and a bag of fruits for the group.
Tonight Dirt was the chef: he prepared an excellent South African Jailhouse Chili with beef and beans. I was not hungry but the food was so good that I had two generous serving of meat and rice. I had an excellent sleep too.
Day 17 (May 22 Sunday): Swailand – Kruger National Park
We had a 2-hour sunrise walk before a brunch. Before leaving Swaziland, Mat took us to a large arts and craft market where I brought four lovely pieces of fabrics with gorgeous patterns and awesome colours for R300.
By 11:30am, we were back on the road. Soon we crossed the border without trouble and began a long drive to Kruger National Park with only a brief lunch/shopping break for half an hour en-route. I bought a gigantic 16-inch big pizza for only R151 (great value) and shared it with the group.
It was dark when we arrived at our lodge at Nkambeni Reserve close to the Numbi Gate. I had a spacious and comfortable tent-room.
Day 18 (May 23 Monday): Game Drive
Located in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in the northeastern South Africa, Kruger National Parkwith an area of 19,485km², is one of Africa’s largest game reserves. It has nine main gates with the administrative headquarters at Skukuza. All the Big Five game animals are found in the park. The estimated population of wildlife as of 2009 include 150,000 Impala, 27,000 African Buffalo, 18,000 Zebra, 11,000 Elephants, 10,000 Wildebeest, 5,000 Giraffe, 3,000 Hippos, 2,800 Lions, 2,000 Leopards, 7-12,000 White Rhinos, 2,000 Spotted Hyena, 350 Black Rhinos, 150 African Wild Dog and 120 Cheetahs.
We had a truck game drive from 6am till a late lunch. Mat was fairly good in spotting animals: we saw two lions (one had just killed a kudu), dozens of elephant, buffalo and rhino (not to mention countless impala).
Day 19 (May 24 Tuesday): Game Drive
Today, we set off in a 4×4 vehicle with a guide from the lodge. As soon as we entered the Numbi Gate, we found two Spotted Hyena crossing the road. We stopped and watched a few more coming out. Signs of a lucky day!
We told our guide that we had seen several lions and lots of elephants, rhinos and giraffes. A leopard was the missing link. With this clear goal in mind, our knowledgeable guide looked out for leopard’s footprints and communicated with other guides with a view to finding a leopard. Finally he sensed a leopard must be around by observing the behaviours of a herd of buffalo and impala near a waterhole: they all looked intensely at the bush. He also heard a growling sound a couple times. With his keen eyes, he soon spotted movements of a leopard behind a bush.
But the leopard was scared by the large herd of fearsome and powerful buffalo. After lurking in the background for a while, the leopard started to move away: his movements were keenly followed by a rhino and her calf until it disappeared into the bush.
The guide guessed the leopard would return from the other side of the bush as it looked hungry and thirsty. He was right: after ten minutes, the leopard came into view next to a thick bush. It did not move and even sat down later. The guide believed it might not move for a long while. Time to move on!
Then we drove near a river and saw some playful elephants by a pond. Nearby we found a big herd of elephants with several babies crossing a road before reaching the river. I watched with amazement how the baby elephants threw themselves onto the ground and rolled over like babies!
The next exciting moment soon arrived: two lions on honeymoon were lying on the open ground close to the road. According to our guide, a couple may mate as many as 70 times a day though for a few second each time. We waited patiently for some 20 minutes before the male lion got up and moved to the shade. The female lion woke up a few minutes later and walked over to her partner. The mating process was very short (just enough time for me to take three photos). Then both dropped to the ground and slept as though nothing had happened.
After a late lunch, we headed back to the lodge. Eight of us signed on a sundown and night game drive (R850) and had to set off at 4:30pm. The sunset was nice but not spectacular.
I am not a good spotter even in daytime. Tonight, I only saw a handful of few animals including an elephant, few impalas and warthogs. It’s not a value-for-money safari unless one is super lucky and sees a lion or leopard, cheetah or wild dog!
Day 20 (May 25 Wednesday): Kruger National Park – Johannesburg
We ended our 20-day journey in a most hectic fashion. We set off at 7am covering over 450km with three sight-seeing stops along the scenic Panoramic Route in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve.
God’s Window– We followed a path leading to a vantage point at the southern extremity of the reserve overlooking sheer cliffs plunging over 700m to the lowveld. From this escarpment – a mostly unbroken rampart of cliffs – opens a vista into the lowvelt expanse ad escarpment forests. On a clear day, it is possible to see over the Kruger National Park towards the Lebombo Mountains on the border with Mozambique. It’s hazy without a postcard view.
Blyde River Canyon– The canyon with an area of 29,000 hectare is the third largest canyon in the world. The landscape with the Three Rondavels, the river, the Drakensberg mountain range and lush vegetation is strikingly beautiful.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes– The Treur River tumbles into the Blyde River: the plunge pools have eroded a number of cylindrical potholes or giant’s kettles that can be viewed from the crags above. Two pedestrian bridges connect the various overlooks of the potholes and the gorge downstream. It is the first time I have seen this geological formation on a such a scale.
We had a late lunch at Harrie’s Pancake in Graskop which is said to have the best pancake in South Africa. Nonetheless, Graskop with an elevation of over 2000m is more attractive to me more than the pancake: the gorgeous expansive pasture land dotted with cattle is golden at this time of the year.
We were back on the road at 3:15pm. The drive took longer than we had expected. Then we were further delayed as a result of two road accidents. By the time we arrived at the Belverde Hotel, it was around 7pm.
We had a farewell dinner in the hotel. But I was in no mood to celebrate as I was busy checking old emails in an attempt to locate my flight booking to Victoria Falls the next day. I have booked a single ticket with SAA online in April. But there is no trace about the booking. What has happened? Have I booked the SAA flight at all? Am I senile?
I told myself to calm down as there was nothing I could do. I have high blood pressure and anxiety would worsen the condition. Anyway, if I had not been issued a ticket for whatever reason, I could buy a new one. I felt more relaxed and slept from midnight to 6am the following day.
Remarks (to add)