A Final Wrap Up

 Posted by Elizabeth at 9:23 am
Feb 192012
 

I thought it was about time I posted a final wrap up, after all we have been home now for nearly 5 months!

Our last couple of days were spent driving back to Johannesburg, so not particularly exciting. When we got to the airport things started to go wrong. Firstly we tried to check in our baggage to be told it was over weight and we would be charged an exorbitant fee to get it home. It was the same baggage, without all the spare toiletries we brought over with us, so would have been quite a bit less than what we brought over! They would not budge. They told us though that we could rearrange our baggage and move stuff to our hand luggage. Huh? How does that work? It still weighs the same amount (and our hand baggage was overweight, but they hadn’t figured that out). OK so we moved stuff around and managed to make them happy – still don’t get it but we were able to get through without us costing anything.

Next was immigration. We handed them our passports and the guy started to get revved up and excited, telling us we had overstayed our visa. What? How does that work? We haven’t been in South Africa for months. He was quite rude and aggressive but finally told us that the initial 90 day visa we got on arrival also meant that we could not come back in from a neighbouring country after the 90 days without going back to our home country first. Oh and the fine was something like $1000 a day that you overstayed. Where does it say that? (I have since checked and I cannot find this anywhere on the SA Immigration website). This is obviously to stop border runners, but it was pretty obvious from the stamps in our passport that we were not border runners – we’d been to Egypt for goodness sake! He took off with our passports and finally came back with his supervisor, who thankfully was sensible. She could see it was an honest mistake and let us go, but advised us that if we ever come back and travel around that we get a proper visa rather than one on entry so we can come and go as we please.

Finally we made it through and were on our way home. Whilst we wanted to see our family, neither of us really wanted to go home or go to work. Before we left people kept telling us how dangerous Africa is, that we were crazy, we should take a gun with us and so on. We landed in Sydney only to find out that someone was shot outside the local police station (maybe 5 km from where we live) and we supposedly live in a nice quiet, safe suburb. Just goes to show it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, things happen. You just need to be sensible and don’t put yourself in situations.

Would we do it again? ABSOLUTELY!


Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:23 pm
Sep 262011
 

The last park of our African adventure was the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP). Everyone we spoke to raved about the park, especially the number of lions present so we were really looking forward to it. We left Kang and travelled through quite thick, sandy roads to the Mabuasehube gate on the Botswana side. The park is a multinational park with one side in Botswana and the other in South Africa.

Gemsbok, Kgalagadi Transfrontier ParkOur first camp was at Khiding Pan 2 for 3 nights. The camp is in a great location overlooking the pan and all the campsites have large shade shelters, pit toilets and showers (if there is water). We parked the car and started to setup camp looking forward to a pleasant afternoon relaxing and watching the animals. Unfortunately the few bees that were there initially multiplied dramatically and by the time the tent was up there were hundreds of bees swarming us. I couldn’t stand it so retreated to the safety of the tent. Poor Wayne managed to throw everything back into the car, getting stung twice in the process, and we decided to try the campsite next to us to escape the bees. Luckily no one showed up and the bees weren’t so bad. (Typically, all the campsites are booked, but inevitably there are vacant sites in reality). All we heard during the night were hyenas. Not a single lion! We also saw a brown hyena walking down the road – another first for us.

Springbok, Kgalagadi Transfrontier ParkThe next day we took a drive to check out the other pans and campsites, trying to find another one to move to as our booked site was still swarming with bees. At lunch we stopped at Mabua 4 and waited to see if anyone would turn up. A group of 6 South Africans arrived on the site beside us and we chatted to them for a while. About 4pm the guy (Alan) staying in the site we were on turned up. Both groups were more than happy for us to park ourselves between them, which we were very grateful for. We had a great night chatting around the campfire with the group of South Africans. Nothing at all was heard that night and we had not seen much at all during the day.

Gemsbok, Kgalagadi Transfrontier ParkOn our third day we were still struggling to find much game at all, with Gemsbok and Springbok about the only animals out on the pans. We were tossing up whether we should head across to Nossob in the South African side 2 days earlier than planned to try and see these lions everyone told us about. We ran into Isaac and Liesel, who we had met in Chobe, and after talking to them for a while we made the decision to head across the park. The Botswana side of the park though is really nice, the camps are rustic, peaceful and isolated and a perfect place to chill out, but as this was our last park we wanted to see some animals.

Crimson breasted shrike, galagadi Transfrontier ParkAt 11am we were packed and headed off towards Nossob. The road is about 200km and was pretty awful, ranging from thick sand, small dunes to climb over and terrible corrugations. We arrived at Nossob about 6pm and as we expected they found us a place to camp. Nossob camp is fenced and quite civilised with fuel, hot showers and a shop, along with quite a few people. We finally heard lions during the night which was fantastic!

The drive across somehow managed to destroy our battery system so we could no longer start the car using the primary battery. If we joined both the primary and secondary batteries it would allow us to start, we just needed to make sure the fridge did not drain the second battery too much. This is pretty much what happened when we had to replace both the batteries in Nairobi, and given that they are only about 2 months old I am quite sure it is an issue with the battery management system and not the actual battery. Oh well, it only has to survive a few more days and it will be back in Johannesburg and Bushlore can get it seen to.

Meerkat, Kgalagadi Transfrontier ParkThe next day we drove south towards Twee Rivieren with the hope of camping at Rooiputs (which is in Botswana and therefore a rustic bush camp). Luckily the camp attendant was on holidays, so we picked a spot and waited to see if anyone would show up. As it turns out a couple we helped to jumpstart their car in Mabua had left us a note as they had told us they were not going to use their booking for the previous night and we were welcome to take their site. We had already paid for a Botswana campsite in Mabua for the night so we were just moving camps (if there was one free). No one showed up and we spent a nice night at Rooiputs as we waited for the lions to come through camp as people told us they have never been to Rooiputs and not had lions in camp. You guessed it, no lions showed up! We didn’t even hear one.  On our way down though we did see 2 lions off in the distance so I guess that was something.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier ParkWe headed back up to Nossob where we spent the next 2 nights. On one of our drives we got to see 2 lions mating. Man do they make a lot of noise! We also saw 2 lazy lions chilling out under the tree beside the road, as they usually do. Finally we managed to see some Meerkats for the first time which were very cute. Other than that the game was still fairly sparse, although definitely better than in Mabua. No more lions were heard, just hyena and jackals.

 

Kgalagadi Transfrontier ParkKgalagadi Transfrontier ParkKgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Kgalagadi Transfrontier ParkOur last night was supposed to be at Twee Rivieren, another fenced and civilised camp, but we were hoping to be able to stay at Rooiputs again. As we were about to leave Nossob, Alan (who we had met in Mabua) arrived and invited us to share his camp in Rooiputs – fantastic! We headed south again and on the way saw 2 lions with their gemsbok kill lying under a tree. They were both very full and their faces and paws were covered in the blood of the gemsbok. Yet again no lions were seen in camp although we were told that a lion parked itself between the shower and toilet for several hours the night before in the camp we stayed at a couple of days prior – typical. We did hear them during the night along with hyena. We also saw our first african wild cat, which looks just like a regular cat.

During our time in the park we managed to see red hartebeest, gemsbok, springbok, brown hyena, dik dik, ostrich, wildebeest, steenbok, lion, ground squirrel, meerkat, black-backed jackal and african wild cat. It is a great park and we will need to visit it again and see if can we find a few more of those lions.


To Zimbabwe via Beitbridge

 Posted by Elizabeth at 2:18 pm
May 252011
 

We had planned to visit the ruins of Thulamela in Kruger, but they were no longer running tours (but could not give an explanation as to why) and you cannot visit them on your own which was a bit disappointing. We left Kruger through the Pafuri gate after taking a leisurely game drive north to Crooks Corner which is where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique all meet. There were not a lot of animals to be seen along the way, although there was a large group of hippos at Crooks Corner and there was one section of road where as we turned the corner a whole heap of different animals appeared, including 2 elephants and a group of Nyalas that seemed to be walking in super slow motion – very odd.

Kruger National ParkNyala, Kruger National ParkHippos and crocs, Kruger National Park

Our plan was to head into Zimbabwe the next day so we needed to stock up on food, gas and diesel and Messina was the only place to do it. Ideally we would have liked to camp there as it was very close to the border, but we had to backtrack 40km to Tshipise as the only campground in town was no longer functioning and the police advised us we would be safer in Tshipise. The campground in Tshipise was grey nomad central. Apparently a lot of the older South Africans head here for a few months as it is warmer. They have some serious setups with annexes that are basically 3 annexes all joined together and are huge. There were satellite dishes, microwaves and TVs everywhere. It was quite amusing and I wonder what they thought of poor old us with just a 4wd and a roof tent! The campground did have free wi-fi though which was a bonus.

We had heard bad things about the Beitbridge border crossing and the road between there and Masvingo so it was with some apprehension we headed to the Zimbabwe border. (We had checked with the police in Messina, and they advised that the road was fine, but that we should not stop unless directed by a police officer as there have been reports of people pointing to your vehicle and indicating that you have a flat tyre or a fire. When you stop to investigate they rob you. They also said there have been incidents of people slashing tyres whilst you are stopped at traffic lights and if that happened to drive to a police station or a petrol station before changing it).

From entering the South African border gate to driving out the Zimbabwean gate it took about 2 hours, 90 minutes of that was at the Zimbabwean side. Whilst it was slow, we had no problems whatsoever and no one attempted to solicit bribes from us. Everyone was pleasant and gave us no grief. Yes you will get hassled on both sides by people wanting to “help” you through the border but they are not at all necessary. Just tell them to go away and they will eventually leave you alone. We asked at each counter where to go next and also asked a westerner who looked like they were pretty familiar with the whole process what to put on some of the forms and where to go. For others who might be travelling, the process is pretty much this:

  • Enter South African side and receive a gate pass (it was chaos central with people, cars and construction everywhere).
  • Park your car and go to the customs tent where if you are lucky someone will lift their head from the card game they are all playing and stamp your gate pass without uttering a word.
  • Go to the immigration tent, get your passport and gate pass stamped (make sure you hand your passport to them on the correct side of their computer monitor or you will be tutted at and have fingers drummed on the table at you).
  • Maximum 10 minutes later, get in your car and drive to the exit where you will be told that you need to drive through the inspection lane (even though it doesn’t say you have to).
  • Reverse the car 100m, drive through the inspection lane, be waved through by someone too lazy to get up from their seat and return to the exit gate and hand your stamped gate pass over.
  • Enter the Zimbabwean side and get a gate pass and be directed to park by a civilian who will try to get you to pay them to look after your car.
  • Pay a 70R ($10) bridge toll at the first counter. Make sure you keep the receipt and slip.
  • Line up at immigration and be given a form.
  • Fill in the form at the rear counter, therefore having to line up again.
  • Wait an eternity for the immigration officer to fill in the visa, the paperwork and the receipt in perfect handwriting. (We did interrupt him reading the newspaper after all).
  • Be taken to another counter to process the visa, but then that person was too busy, so go back to the first counter and the original officer completes the process and then needs to find you some change (total cost of the pleasure $US90).
  • A tout will hand you the form for your Temporary Import Permit (TIP) and Customs. Take it but tell them you don’t need their help. (They will hang around but ignore them and eventually they will go away).
  • Fill in the forms, the TIP you need to write twice because of course there is no carbon paper. (Make sure you put on the TIP everything of value that you are taking in and out of Zimbabwe in case you are questioned on the way out). Do not declare anything on the customs form.
  • Wait at the Visitors counter (not the chaotic returning residents one). Here you will hand over the forms, your rego papers, letter of clearance from the hire company and pay a Road Access Fee 70R, Carbon Tax 200R, Insurance 200R.
  • Go outside the building, cross the road and enter the rear (ignore the front counter) of a derelict looking building where you hand all the paperwork to a police officer (who is reading the paper and is dressed in civilian clothes) who will stamp your gate pass. (We had no problem, but the guy in front of us was hassled about his copy of his rego papers not being certified – neither are ours and we handed them the ones that were expired anyway. The guy managed to talk his way out of it though).
  • Finally move your car and park it under cover in front of the buildings in the Green zone. Wait at the caged counter until the customs officer finally appears 10 minutes later. Give him the papers, smile nicely and hope he is not going to give you a hard time. (Again we had no issue at all and he stamped our gate pass, however others were asked to go back inside and pay duty on items. I am not sure whether it is because we are not South African and therefore unlikely to be bringing goods in or whether it was just our lucky day, but 2 people in front of us and the person after us were either searched or had to pay duty).
  • Thank your lucky stars and drive to the first gate 100m away where someone will take half of your gate pass.
  • Drive another 50m and someone else will take the rest of your gate pass (goodness knows why).
  • Breathe a big sigh of relief, know your wallet is somewhat lighter, although not through bribes, and that you have spent a “pleasant” 90 minutes in the chaos that is Beitbridge.
  • Welcome to Zimbabwe!

Kruger National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 5:48 pm
May 232011
 

Tonight is out 5th night in Kruger and it has lived up to its reputation of abundant wildlife and a wide variety. We have seen the following animals whilst we have been here (at least these are the ones we can remember), as well as a heap of birds:

lion elephant rhino cheetah giraffe
kudu nyala grysbok impala buffalo
steenbok waterbuck tsessebe wildebeest civet
hippo crocodile hyena warthog spotted genet
baboon vervet monkey zebra ostrich toad
leopard tortoise squirrel springhare bush hare  

 

Waterbuck, Kruger National ParkSouthern Ground Hornbill, Kruger National ParkKruger National Park

The first night we had to pretty much drive without stopping in order to make Letaba camp before the gates closed at 5.30pm, but we did manage to see a couple of elephants on the way. We also saw what we think was a leopard. It walked on the road directly towards us for a couple of metres then darted off into the bush. It was definitely a cat and definitely had spots and the others that saw it thought it was a leopard as well. Not a bad start!

Vervet monkey, Kruger National ParkKruger National ParkBaboon, Kruger National Park

We have finally seen quite a few elephants whilst we have been here, including a few not so happy bulls in musth (this is when they are ready to mate and search out the females and they get a bit cantankerous). One of the bulls made us back up a bit to get away from him, then after we had got past him he forced 2 other cars back a few hundred metres. Where he was there was a family of elephants, including little ones, that we were watching – all the time keeping an eye out the back of the car for the cranky old bull. They were very cute to watch, especially the little ones.

 Kruger National ParkKruger National Park

Kruger National ParkOur second night we camped at Balule, which is a satellite camp. As such, it only had 15 sites and no electricity. The ablutions were lit with kerosene lamps and each site was on the camp fence which made it much more rustic and bush like than the larger campsites. Whilst we were there for lunch I heard a loud crack of a tree and knew an elephant was very close. Sure enough just a few metres away there he was. He was not particularly happy that Wayne and I were standing maybe 3 metres from him so trumpeted and swayed at us. Needless to say I backed up, but Wayne stayed there. Yes the camp has a fence around it, but if an elephant decided it wanted to push through I am sure it could without too much trouble. IKruger National Parkn the photo you can see how close he was to the fence!

Our third night was back at Letaba and we decided to do the night drive. We saw a few animals including a couple of new ones, but nothing terribly exciting. It is interesting to do the night drives though and our guide was extremely knowledgeable.

Our fourth night was at Shingwedzi camp. Again our campsite was right on the fence and we saw a spotted genet and a civet. The civet is a really beautiful animal about the size of a small dog, with a white and black coat covered in spots and stripes. It came right past the fence 4 times whilst we sat there. Very cool!

Kruger National ParkTawny Eagle, Kruger National ParkKudu, Kruger National Park

Tonight we are camping at Punda Maria. We are on the fence again tonight, so who knows what we might see. I doubt it will be much though as the wildlife seems to be more dispersed the further north you go, however we did manage to see Nyalas and Grysbok today which we have not seen before. They also have cheeky monkeys in the camp. We were sitting at lunch and heard this loud noise from inside the car. It was a damn vervet monkey who took off with yesterday’s loaf of bread. We should have known better as we knew they were around, but forgot to close the car doors. That is the second time now a monkey has managed to take something. The first was in Addo when a monkey came out of nowhere and took the bananas from the table.

Sharpes Grysbok, Kruger National ParkLeopard tortoise, Kruger National ParkNyala, Kruger National Park

Cheetah, Kruger National ParkThe highlight of our time here has to be our 2 cheetah sightings. The first time there were 4 of them. They sat on top of a hill in the grass for quiteCheetah, Kruger National Park some time and even though they were a reasonable distance away we could still see them and through the binoculars they were spectacular. We then saw a cheetah lying about 12 metres from the road. Now that was awesome. They are huge, almost as big as a lioness, and just beautiful creatures.

We have both enjoyed our time here and are thinking we may spend our last few days in Africa back here, especially down the south where the animals are meant to be even more plentiful.

Lion, Kruger National ParkKruger National ParkKruger National ParkHippos, Kruger National ParkBuffalo, Kruger National ParkTsessebe, Kruger National Park

Back to South Africa

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:01 pm
May 192011
 

Debengeni FallsAfter our morning game drive in the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, we headed off back to South Africa. The border crossing was simple and we both wished that all the crossings to come could be that easy! The day was pretty uneventful until we got closer to our overnight stop of Mokopane. As it was election day, for some reason the South African government declared it a public holiday, so there were people around everywhere. On the outskirts of town there were large settlements, although they had decent, small houses with reasonable sized land. I made the comment that it looked like a version of Soweto, but with a larger number of decent houses. We felt safe, but were on higher alert. On the way to town the road was blocked and we could see a large crowd and lots of lights flashing. It turned out to be a road accident with police and ambulances in attendance and a significant crowd had gathered to watch as if it was their afternoon’s entertainment. I was initially on edge until we realised it was a road accident and police were directing traffic. We then arrived in Mokopane itself. I instantly got the feeling there was something not quite right about the place and I felt uneasy. Every time we stopped at traffic lights I was nervous. At the last set of lights we stopped at 2 young guys tried to open the rear passenger doors of our car. Luckily we drive with the doors locked, especially so if we feel uneasy or there are people about, so they were unsuccessful and we drove away. I had had enough by then and wanted to get out of the town instantly even though we had not yet found our overnight stop so we found the road out of town and left. It turned out that our overnight stop was about a kilometre down the road out of town so we pulled in to check it out. We stayed the night at the Mokopane Breeding Centre as we originally planned as it had security and high fences around the entire premises and we felt safe. After speaking to the people that run the place, it turns out that the traffic lights where they tried to get into our car is known for people trying to grab things off the seats of vehicles, so we were lucky our doors were locked. My initial instincts were absolute right! We had a brief look around the breeding centre, which breeds animals for Pretoria Zoo.

First stop this morning was the supermarket as we were low on supplies. In Pietersburg we managed to find the biggest and newest supermarket that we have seen since we first stocked up in Johannesburg. It was a luxury to have great meat and vegetables to choose from as well as anything else we could possibly need. I doubt we will encounter such luxury for quite some time!

Sunland BaobabWe decided this morning to head off to Kruger and see if we can get in a night earlier, which meant we needed to be at Phalaborwa Gate by 4pm at the latest to make the camp gate closing time. We still had time though to drive via the Magoebaskloof Pass and drop in at Sunland BaobabDebengeni Falls and the Sunland Baobab Tree. The falls are quite pretty and worth a quick detour if you are passing by. The Sunland Baobab is also worth a look. It is supposed to be 6000 years old and the biggest baobab tree. Actually inside the tree a small bar has been created which is pretty unique.

We made the gate by 3.45pm and managed to secure the last campsite at Letaba, although in true African style, the campsite probably had one third of its campsites vacant even though the computer system said they had none. Very frustrating if you can’t get in when you know there are vacant sites. We will spend the next 5 nights exploring Kruger.

© 2010 2Taylors Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha