South Africa Trip August 2013
The Flight from LA to Dulles Washington DC left on time at 8ish. Karl kindly dropped us off at the airport. The 5 hour flight was good, with a nice sandwich. Then on to the SAA flight at a ghastly 17 hours. The flight was OK we managed to snatch some little naps. The food was fair, the staff bossy. I watched 2 rather sweet movies, A Big Year, and Yes Man and a little TV. It was a very full flight. We had a 1 hour stopover in Dakkar, Senegal for a flight crew change. We landed safely in Jhb OR Tambo airport and had a 2 hour wait for the flight to Durban. The airport was very ill-lit in my opinion. Still we had a nice coffee and explored the shops. Books are still shockingly expensive but other stuff is cheap thanks to the great exchange rate presently at 10 to 1.
The flight to Durban was very pleasant, with a most delicious sandwich and a more friendly and professional crew. There is a new airport for Durban now, the King Shaka airport, 40 mins north of Durban. So it was doubly nice of Irene and John to come and fetch us and take us to their holiday flat on the Bluff. Very nice flat, 2 beds/2baths, huge balcony. Pretty good view of the ocean.
We chatted until 1 in morning and slept through to 8:30
SUNDAY – 4th August Durban
Up for a quick brekky, then off for day of memories – exploring all the old haunts. Down the South Coast Road, past the old Indian shops (still there) and the local Indian vegetable market (gone), up Kenyon Howden road and the churches, park, pool, and down the hill to Woodlands and Hayhurst Place. Irene said last time they were there the area was dreadfully run down, but this time it looked pretty well- tended. Of course it seemed much smaller than my memory recalled, and SA in general seems a bit shabby around the edges, but things are in OK shape. Irene and John say the trash/littering problems are improving. Drove past our old High school – Mowat Park, which looks much the same.
We then drove up to Umhlanga Rocks area and looked for Norbert’s old high school – Beechwood Boys (tho we are not sure if we found the correct school) and Norbert’s old homes. Opa’s house is still standing and looking good.
We then had lunch on Durban beachfront. It was actually pretty quiet and uncrowded…but maybe it is not holiday season, being winter. With the exchange rate things seem so cheap -3 beers and 3 big sandwiches set us back only $20. We walked along the beachfront looking at the old kiddie pools etc. The big Finlayson pool on the beachfront that was used for galas has had the wall removed. We also looked at the end of the beachfront where some new properties (flats) on a series of canals are being developed and it looks very nice. Another money making tourist trap seems now to be for the locals to make sand sculptures, some political in nature, and charge one for photographing them.
We drove up to the top of the Bluff areas to see the views. The old Louis Botha airport is now just a parking lot for the new Toyotas…so many places gone, and so many new buildings. Durban harbor is really busy – there were ships coming in and out all the while. Containers are a problem – loads of stuff coming in, not so much leaving…so there are these “cities” of containers. We also saw some whales migrating along the coast and blowing. The roads now seem so narrow. We went home to the flat for a quick drink then on to the Spur Steakhouse for dinner. N and J had steaks, Irene a wrap and I had 8 queen prawns….all that with beers, wine and desserts was $52. Amazing. At home we all swapped/viewed a few pictures. I and J talk of selling the flat in Brighton as it is a bit much to manage 2 properties in these uncertain times.
Monday 5th August Durban
Up at 8:30 and went for a 3 mile walk along Anstey’s Beach after breakfast. We walked all the way to the tidal pool. There had been a bad storm a few years back and the retaining walls near the parking street had tumbled down, with all the viewing benches. Not repaired yet, which was a pity. The pool is still in good shape, and we walked in the real tidal pools, picked shells. Even tho it is winter the water was warm enough to paddle nicely. We saw more whales. Then we had a beer at the green Dolphin café where Irene used to waitress. Home for a light lunch and then more exploring. Visited Makro where N bought a great warm jacket for the equivalent of $17. Then into Durban center – West street, the old Post Office, Centenary Gardens, the City Hall and Library, the Playhouse (now a proper theatre again) and the old Station – now all gift shops. We stopped in at a curio shop and N got a wallet, and I bought some porcupine quills and some masks.
We went on to the new Durban aquarium, relocated to the end of the beachfront. We discovered if we waited ½ hour we could get in half price, so we went for a drink at Moyo’s Pier, through a nice new shopping attraction. The view and the drinks were great and we spent a happy hour there. Lads now make fun sand sculptures and charge one to photograph them. They were also using tractors and equipment to replace the beach sand …all great to watch, along with the surfers. Then on to the aquarium, done up as a wrecked ship. The exhibits were well-done, although I swear there were some fish who have been with the collection since I was a child. We were virtually the only people there and had a great time viewing the place “in private”.
We chased dinner for a while (some old stalwart restaurants – like at the Elangeni, have disappeared) and had to deal with the annoying phenomena of “tipping” a car watcher every time of leaves the car!!!
Eventually we ended up on Greyville/Florida Road at the House of Curries, which was fun. It is now a “trendy” area. N and Irene had beef curry, I had a lamb curry, and John a bunny chow. It was encouraging to see the restaurant is popular with middle class blacks and Indians too.
Cheesa – hot (Zulu), Jabonga –thank you (Zulu)
Tuesday 6th August Durban – Pongola
Up at 8 to be on the road by9:30 for the long trip up the coast north to St. Lucia. We picnicked there on the estuary, now allowed to silt up. Very clean and well-kept. It was still vaguely familiar as the place we so often camped as children. We saw a “graveyard” of crosses to rhinos killed in poaching attacks. Then on to Pongola Game Reserve, arriving at about 3:30. We were in Mvulu Lodge, cabins 5 and 2 where we met host Donovan.
Mvulu – hippo (Zulu), Inyati – buffalo (Zulu)
The cabins are brilliant, all thatched with great verandahs overlooking the river down in the valley. With the binoculars we could see Kudu, hippo, birds, warthog, all grazing or wallowing in the river.
After a drink, Donovan took us for a tour of the property and we saw so much game. This Reserve is also a hunting reserve, tho they keep the hunters apart from the other guests. We saw the river boats, the hunting lodge, and the spa center. We got back for a sundowner and then had a boma style dinner with the other guest whose birthday it was – so we had a birthday cake to boot. Also, coincidentally John Jr’s birthday!!! The dinner was good – beef and kudu stroganoff. Then a after dinner drink with the Gibbs and bed.
Wednesday 7th August Pongola – White River
Up early to sit on the verandah and watch the game – crocodile, hippo, and many buck spread across the plain. A good hot breakfast and then off, making a stop at the Lodge abattoir to try and get biltong. The place smelled of blood – awful! We bought an impala loin for cooking and some kudu and impala biltong.
Most of the rest of the day was consumed by the drive to White River. The roads are good. At one point, a bus had gone off the road and so we all had to take a detour through a little village on a dirt track. There was quite a traffic jam as we all navigated the narrow track. This particular route to Irene and John’s house led through wattle groves, mainly for the paper industry. At last we arrived at Wild Fig, the estate just beyond the city of Nelspruit. It is an estate of about 40 homes (some not yet built) that is fenced and gated and holds grazing game. Their house is absolutely lovely. 3 bedrooms 2 baths, scullery, large enough garden, a huge front verandah, double garage, spare “rooms” underneath, open plan kitchen dining lounge with high beamed ceilings. Because they bought the showhouse, it is already decorated. It is Irene’s Dream house and I am so happy for them, This is where they hope to retire. Also it is a 2 hour shot to LM/Maputo in Mozambique should John wish to do some diving.
We drove to see White River village where they keep a post box, then we went to dinner at ‘Da Loose Mongoose” a delightful establishment with a great waiter. The setting is an old converted house. N had chicken curry, Irene sausage and mash, John steak, and I had the chicken with Portuguese periperi rub. All delicious. Crumbed mushrooms for starters, desserts wines…all for $50. Amazing!
Thursday 8th August Wild Fig
Got some emails – Chris is expecting us, and K& K mailed too. After breakfast we went for a long walk around the estate. We saw guinea fowl (I got a feather), nyala, lovely birds like bee eaters and hawks, and we saw a giraffe (the estate has 2) It was so exciting.
After lunch we went into Nelspruit and N bought sandals, and we did some grocery shopping. The stores are great, clean and well stocked with colourful merchandising. Also a trip to the liquor store where I found a great Syrah “Boer and Brit” which later proved delicious.
John made a potjie kos of the impala loin which was absolutely delicious on the built in BBQ on their wonderful verandah – so we could watch the sunset and animals at the same time. Lovely views all the way to Nelspruit – a little like the expansive views at the cabin.
Later that evening we saw a little herd of nyala, and 5 zebra came right to the little park by the house to graze. Tomorrow we are off to a park near Kruger for the weekend.
Friday 9th August Wild Fig – Kapama
We slept late (9ish) but last night I had a horrid dream that Kevin hated me…sigh! Anyway, after a really nice breakfast of toasts and emmenthaler cheese and hams we packed a small bag for Kapama Game Lodge (part of the Kruger National parks) and set off for the South camp. It was a bout a 21/2 hour drive, through mostly nice scenery though there was one awful township area. Once we “hesitated” at a stop sign and were pulled over by a policeman, who then let us go, remarking that we were “too old to be deliberately causing trouble, so we must have made a genuine mistake” – the cheek! We stopped for a quick drink near the Blyde Rivier canyon area – although we were on the coastal side we could just make out the beginnings of the canyons. We got to the park gates just after 2 and drove on into the Southern camp another 10 k or so. By the time we checked in and unpacked we were just in time for the 3pm tea and 4 pm game drive which went on until 7pm followed by dinner. There would be a stop for drinks during the drive. The tea was very nice but I did not want to imbibe too much because of the upcoming drive.
A storm front had moved in and we experienced amazing sheet lightning, huge dark clouds, and ultimately biting rain. But we also saw tons of game – warthog, giraffe, 2 lions. Waterbuck, buffalo, kudu. After the drinks stop ( I had wine and N had whiskey) the rain really started in and although we were provided with ponchos they were not very waterproof at all and we were all drenched by the time we returned to camp. We all had to change completely, down to our underpants, before dinner.
The dining room was amazing, a huge, high thatched structure with twisted log, net and canvas sides to take advantage of the views and game.
The cabin rooms are mud and straw, with thatched roofs, with wonderful bathrooms - so pretty. The cabins also have individual small verandahs and face the bush around the camp where the smaller animals roam. All the decorations and décor are great. It was rather cold so we put on the heaters – also to dry the clothes. We dined with “our” guide ranger and our car companions, an Austrian couple, and a Brazilian couple. Dinner was a buffet – bobotie, rice, sausage, pork ribs. N later had a bit of an upset tummy but put it down to the malaria tablets so he refuses to continue with them. After watching John drive, and seeing some interesting cars (loads of Toyotas) N is now full of talk of renting a car to get to Jhb. We will see.
Saturday 10th August Kapama Game Lodge
Struggled awake at the 5”30 wake-up call for the 6 am tea and 6:30 game drive!!! The Austrian couple said they had seen nothing on the previous day’s early drive, but we really lucked out today and saw tons of game after a slow start. The rains had washed the plants and grass clean and the air was cool (in fact it was still drizzling ) so the animals were frisky and out feeding in force in in families. We saw a bunch of playful young lion, a herd of elephant, 3 buffalo, 2 giraffe, many impala, and warthog. During our coffee stop I saw a rhino footprint. The lion and elephant came extremely close to the car, which was terrifyingly exciting. The elephant herd had 3 babies. We were back by 9 for a delicious breakfast of scones, jams, sausage, egg, bacon, and coffee and juice. I spent the rest of the morning catching uip with the diary and N loaded the videos we have taken so far and had a snooze. Irene and John went to read in the main rondawel by the fire. Lunch was great: chicken a la king, curry…all charmingly served by Matilda, then it was John’s turn to snooze while Irene, N and I explored the inner camp on foot. We saw monkeys and the boma area that we are not using because of the rainy conditions. The drizzle continued for the evening drive, and we had a new companion just join. It was an exciting drive as we took a new route onto the plains and could see the herds of beasts. We saw elephant, followed lions walking up river to a wash where they drank and walked around and around the car. Tons of impala and wildebeest, kudu. Such an embarrassment of riches and misfortune (losing a spotlight following lion up a steep embankment and then later having to retrace our drive to find it) that we did not even stop for the evening drink. Dinner was worth it though – a carvery of roast beef. The presentation is lovely. N’s favorite tiramisu for pudding. We had a nice merlot with dinner “signal Cannon” Company and conversation were good to. A quick drink at the Gibbs’ cabin and off to bed and a deep sleep.
Sunday11 August. Kapama – Hoedspruit – Wild Fig
Up at 5:30 for the drive again. We saw a great herd of elephant drinking at the dam – one of the females even took a short run at the car to keep us back. Had word of a leopard kill, and, though we found the remains of the kill, we did not see the leopard. Lots of marvelous birds to be seen too, like kingfisher and vultures.After breakfast we settled the bill and drove out of the camp to the Hoedspruit Cheetah Rehabilitation Project and Endangered Species Center. After an interesting video of the history we had a jeep tour of the facility where they help abandoned, orphaned, and endangered animals and, if at all possible, reintroduce them back into the wild. We also go some souvenirs at the excellent curio shop, and all the money is ploughed back into the rehabilitation projects. We got back to Wild Fig by 4. John made lamb in a marinade and we had a quiet evening chatting.
Monday 12 August. Casterbridge
After breakfast we went to the lovely shopping centre Casterbridge, very nicely landscaped and laid out…English like the name implies, with vines and shaded patios and lovely arty shops. We bought spices, stone boxes, coasters. We had lunch at the Kombuis…service was slow as they had just fired up the pizza ovens so the waitress gave us free roosterbrood and jam – a nice gesture. I had an OK boerewors roll, N and Irene shared a pizza. After a little grocery shopping N had a snooze and then we all went for an afternoon walk where I had the great good luck to find a porcupine quill and we came across 3 zebra on the road in front of us. After a sundowner we went to the Gum Tree for dinner. Service was bad but I had a great crumbed pork chop, John had bunny chow, N had curry, and Irene a steak roll. Then the bill was incorrectly totted too! Shameful! But it was a delightful place and we had a good time sitting by the fire, watching the cricket and patting the local dogs. Also they were working on the drive so we were “forced” to drive like adventurers up the steep banks to get to the road. Drank the orange wine the Gibbs had bought a Casterbridge and it tasted like liquid marmalade…not bad but not to be indulged in too often.
Tuesday 13 August Pilgrims Rest and Bourke’s Luck Potholes
Woke up to a lovely warm day…we have been so lucky with the weather, whereas the Cape has been experiencing floods. We decided to go for a day trip through the pretty town of Sabie to Pilgrim’s Rest. We parked on the only street and walked around…it is much as I remembered. We went into the mining museum and curio shops..just about every building has been turned into a commercial enterprise. The shops and goods are lovely and N bought a hat, and I a cloth and a shirt. And at the outdoor stalls we bought masks and a carved elephant. However the pressure to buy at the stalls is awful…I really do not enjoy that. We had a beer at the Hotel that used to be a church – a tradition if visiting Pilgrim’s Rest. The place is as charming as I remember. The car WAS washed, and $60. Demanded. Irene did not pay! Anyway, we did spend a fair bit of money there and will come again if everhere again as it is very pretty.
Then we went on to the Bourke’s Luck potholes, where they now ask a modest entry fee. We parked and walked down to the potholes which I remembered well, and they are so lovely. The shallow upper area is full of pools and people were splashing in them but the water was cold! We also saw a most amazingly coloured lizard basking in the sun! We walked over the gorge bridges to see the deeper potholes and carved canyons. Then we had our picnic along with the monkeys.
At home there was a lovely sunset. John made boerwors and Irene made an onion and tomato gravy like Ouma used to. I had made a potato salad, and we ate out of doors with a great wine that I found in the local store. And we watched the local wildlife coming near the house to graze – always something to look at. .
Wednesday 14th August Nelspruit
We had a great day after a sterling breakfast of eggs, bacon and mushrooms! We drove into Nelspruit, passing the estate’s kudu and zebra on the way out! We went to a building store/hardware store and found some nice soap/toothbrush holders in wood that would suit the cabin. Also went to Macro and found 2 ice cream cups that N admired. After this we went to the Riverside Mall and N got a safari jacket like John’s with many useful pockets. The Pick and Pay yielded biscuits, chocolates, and rusks. Bought some pies for lunch and rushed home to eat them warm.
After N had had a nap we drove to the Nelspruit International airport to fetch the car that N had arranged. The airport also had a rather nice tourist shop and I bought 2 more masks there. Drove home with N who managed beautifully of course.
At cocktail hour we sat in the sheltered garden area for a change. I picked a nice pod from a tree and then left it by my chair, and a few minutes later it exploded right next to me. That must be how it releases its seeds. Around 6:30 we went to dinner at “The Fez in Baghdad” – I had a pork hock, N a fillet steak, Irene a lamb tagine (like a curry) and John a curry. We all had hummus and shusi to start…an odd combination. Then a nice evening at home sharing more pictures, and finally to bed at midnight. Tomorrow we are driving to Christine in Jo’burg. We can’t believe our time with I & J is at an end. We had such a great time together.
THURSDAY 15th August White River – Johannesburg
Up at 8 and a wonderful farewell breakfast. It was sad leaving the Gibbs’ who have been so kind and generous. Three animals came to see us off as we drove away…one zebra, a small vole, and the tiny duiker! We also bade farewell to the nice gatekeeper, Calvin. Off we drove, past the Mercedes Benz dealership to the N4. Having heard stories from I& J we were a little nervous, but the drive went beautifully. There was a little construction but the roads were largely empty so the construction did not matter much. However we were careful not to speed as we saw a tremendous amount ot police on the roads and they are reportedly quite corrupt. We did experience one random stop but he was actually rather friendly. We stopped once on the 4 hour drive for a “pit stop” and lunch. We bought and shared a sandwich and Irene had kindly packed us fruit, drinks, biltong. After the stop it was plain sailing to Sandton. However once there, we felt lost as it has become so built up the old landmarks are gone and the place has changed beyond recognition. We stopped off to buy wine for Chris and Andrea as we are dining at Andreas’ flat tonight. We could not drive straight to the house as the custom is to put gates and fences in front of all roads/communities. This was really alarming and speaks to the level of crime and/or insecurity. Christine had to come and “drive “ us in. We had a welcome cup of tea with the family and then N and I strolled around the garden with the dogs and cat. We are staying in the “cottage”. The house and garden are as lovely as ever and thankfully look the same too, so we could get our bearings and feel “at home” again. After a drink at 5ish we went to Andrea’s flat nearby for dinner. It is a nice 1 bedroom flat off the William Nicol Drive. We had a delicious dinner of eggplant casserole and rice with a tiramisu dessert. Home by 9 for a deep sleep. The Van Straaten family looks well and happy.
FRIDAY 16th August Sandton.
Had a quick breakfast with Chris, Willie and then N and I set off to explore. Everything has changed so much in the 15 years since we were last in this area that we were soon totally lost. So many new buildings, and an amazing number of car dealerships. Slowly, by trial and error we made our way to Jukskei Park and Smarag Ave. Once we pulled over to get our bearings and the police were there at once. We told them we were lost and they gave us (incorrect) directions. We found Smarag Ave but it is gated at both ends. However at the top end we were lucky in that a person who lived there was coming home and we explained that we used to live there and just wanted to take pictures and so she allowed us in with her and waited while we took some pictures and then let us out again. Most kind. The house looked wonderful although the new owners have done a little renovating and have 2 dogs who loudly made their displeasure known. We also visited Barbara Place which looks exactly the same, but a little run-down,