It is about 3pm in the afternoon. I am sitting at my desk booking a holiday for a client, when my boss comes out his office and asks: fancy a trip to South Africa? Are you kidding me, I ask? No, he is not! One of my colleagues was suppose to go on a study trip, but she cannot go. All of a sudden I am rushing home to pack my suitcase. South Africa, a destination that is on my bucket list for sure! Whoohoo…
Day 1: from Amsterdam to Johannesburg
The next morning I fly with KLM to Johannesburg, having no idea what to expect on this trip. My boss sent me the program by email yesterday afternoon. But I did not have time to properly read it, let alone look up anything. But that is ok, the bigger the surprise will be. The flight is comfortable and I am lucky enough to fly economy comfort class (extra leg space). I am only 1.68 metres tall, but still it is nice to have extra leg space. After about 10 hours I put my feet on South African soil. It is evening, there is no difference in time zone, so no jet lag; how great is that!
I am with a group of other travel agents, the trip is offered by TUI and we are greeted by a representative of AAA (African Ample Assistance). We all get some Rand as pocket money from the ATM before we leave the airport. We have a quick transfer to our overnight hotel The Airport Grand, which is less than a 10 minutes drive from the airport. It is around midnight when we arrive and we get welcomed with a drink. The reception does not have my name but my colleague’s name on the list and they make some quick changes. Wendy, a sweet lady who works not too far from my office, becomes my roommate for this trip and I have a feeling we will get on just fine! We go to sleep, it is late and we have to get up very early, for tomorrow we have a long drive ahead of us.
Day 2: from Johannesburg to Timbavati
After breakfast I walk around the hotel; all is quiet still. The hotel looks good, the rooms are comfortable and the hotel is mostly used as a conference centre. But there is a pool for those who want to go for a swim. We do not have time for this; we check out early.
There is no time to explore Johannesburg, but we have a great day ahead us. The roads around Johannesburg are pretty good I must say and the further inland we go, the more spectacular the scenery becomes. South Africa is pretty special, the country is big and the scenery changes all the time. After about 250 kilometres we arrive in Dullstroom, it is lunch time. The idea during this trip is to see the country and the accommodations the tour operator sells, but we combine the practical with either a drink or lunch, so it does not feel like work really. We walk towards Highland Rose Country House, a peaceful haven where tourists can relax in a beautiful garden. They serve us a delicious bobotie lunch and we get a tour around the property before we move on.
Once we leave Dullstroom, we go further east and up north. Our driver takes us to Timbavati Safari Lodge. The landscape becomes more mountainous and rougher. I seriously have to pinch myself, because this time yesterday I was still sitting in my office, not knowing I would be in South Africa the next day. We arrive at Timbavati halfway the afternoon. What a beautiful place! The lodge is only 20 minutes away from the heart of the world-renowned Kruger National Park and lies on the border between the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. It is a perfect location really. Apart from Kruger National Park there are lots of other game reserves close by, so there is plenty to choose from when you want to go on a safari!
We are warmly welcomed upon arrival and get a refreshing drink. I love the rondawels (or rondavel) of Timbavati, which are painted with traditional art work and therefor very colourful. We do not get a lot of time to view the lodge, we need to check in quickly and change our clothes, because we go for a game drive at Thornybush. Whoohoo… let me pinch myself again! We quickly go to our rondawel rooms, which are lovely by the way and get changed. Then we walk toward the jeeps, seeing warthogs running around between the rondawels.
We have a very kind ranger/driver (who is very handsome as well I must say) and a tracker on the look out spot in front op the jeep. We go for a sunset game drive of approximately 3 hours. At the end of the afternoon there is a better chance to spot the Big Five (the elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo). Game drives are usually very early in the morning or late in the afternoon, but you can also go for a full day if you want to.
We leave with two jeeps, who can carry up to 9 passenger. The first part of the game drive is over the territory of the lodge. We soon come across wildebeests, giraffes and zebras. I love zebras; they all are perfect in their black and white “outfit” and they are so pretty and giraffes have something so graceful. We stop for a while to watch them from a close distance before we move on.
After a few minutes we have to enter a large gate that take us into Thornybush. All (private) game reserves are protected with high fences, so that the wild animals are not only protected here, but it also keeps the animals inside, so they will not show up in front of your room. Well… that is the idea, big cats can make big jumps. The fences are mostly there for the animals that need protection and around the accommodations there are always people on the look out for the safety of the visitors.
The first of the Big 5 we encounter is a small group of elephants. The jeeps usually stop and turn off their engines while admiring the animals and so do we. There is a young elephant who is pretty curious and comes very close to our jeep. But his mother does not like it and follows him, warns us and we decide to move on :).
I spot the second one of the Big 5, which are the rhinos. We stop, but they are far away and we cannot get closer to see them well. But we did see them. In Thornybush there are so many animals! We see more wildebeest, antelope, deer species, bokkies, mongoose, zebras and beautiful birds.
It is now dark and the chance to spot the other 3 is getting smaller. But we do not give up and are rewarded and see number 3 of the Big 5. We come across a group of lions and stop our jeep once more. We get to see them from up close and personal. We are advised to be quiet and not to move around too much. The male is just being lazy and not roaring but yarning on the photograph below 😉 He does not really care that we are there watching him and his entourage. The females think differently and we decide to leave them alone.
On our way back to Timbavati our tracker spots a beautiful owl, who lets us admire him/her. We also come across buffaloes (number 4 of the Big 5). The only one missing on the is the leopard, who does not like to show itself really. But we had an amazing game drive and have seen so much. And our ranger really stretched our time in Thornybush, so we got the most out of our game drive and are grateful to him!
After the game drive we need a shower, but since we stayed in Thornybush longer than planed, we go straight for dinner. A delicious dinner buffet awaits us in a walled outdoor area where people come together for all kinds of occasions. It is an open-aired traditional boma in true African style. During dinner we get to see and enjoy traditional African dances and music. After dinner we wash off the dust from the game drive in our on suite bathroom and we go to sleep in our beautiful and comfortable rondawel. It is true what people say about South Africa: there is a different rhythm here in life and it is a world on its own.
Day 3: from Timbavati to Hazyview
The next morning I wake up and have a look outside, Waking up in Timbavati puts a big smile on my face. There is not a giraffe or zebra at our door, but there are warthogs running around. They are funny creatures and love to play. Unfortunately we have to leave Timbavati and I have one last look at our rondawel before we leave our suitcases at the door. We have breakfast, say goodbye and get back on the bus.
Today we drive the well known Panorama Route and the scenery is stunning. If you book an organized tour or holiday, for sure this route will be part of your trip. But when going on a self drive holiday, this route should be part of your program.
Our first stop is The Three Rondavels. Close to the car park locals are awaiting us in their are souvenir stalls. They sell wood carved items. handmade bags and other goods. The Three Rondavels are named after Chief Maripi Mashile’s three wives: Magabolie, Magoladikwe and Maseroto and the three astonishing peaks resemble rondavels. They are also known as “The Chief and his three wives”. This place is definitely worth a visit, once at the lookout point the views are amazing. When you live in a tiny country like I do, the space is overwhelming and I need to take it all in. It is very hazy and I forgot my UV filter for my camera. But I manage to take some photographs and sit down to enjoy the view until we need to move on.
Our next stop are the impressive Bourke’s Luck Potholes, also part of the Blyde River Canyon. The Potholes were created by the coming together of the Blyde River (river of happiness) and the Treur River (river of sorrow). Craggy cliffs drop down into cylindrical potholes bubbling over into waterfalls and water slides. All I can say is: wow! Mother nature has done her best here for sure; it is really impressive to see the potholes and the water running through. Thankfully we have some free time to walk around to enjoy this amazing place. We mostly stay on the walking tracks and put our feet in the cold water of one of the rivers located just behind the potholes. We sit down for a while and just feel blessed being here and I keep pinching myself if this is all really happening or if I am dreaming.
Our third stop is at God’s Window. South Africa and the Drakensberg in particular are filled with natural beauty and splendour. This part of the area is special and the view is stunning and that is how it got its name. The panoramic view from this area is filled with rock formations, canyons and waterfalls. There are viewpoints along the length of the Blyde River Canyon and it is said that on a clear day you can see as far as the coastline of Mozambique (but that seems impossible; the distance is too big). It is not a clear day, but the view is pretty spectacular. God’s Window is part of a 250 kilometre stretch of sheer cliffs which drop 600m down. This means we are high up in the mountains and breathe in clean air while admiring the view. The photograph does not do the place justice. It is really a stunning view! Such a shame I forgot my UV filter.
We drive to Graskop, a small town in the province of Natal, where we have lunch. Graskop is known for its pancake restaurants and we sit down at Harrie’s. Most of the restaurants are located along the main road. After lunch we move on to Pilgrims Rest, which is a historical (gold) mining town. Nowadays mostly tourists visit this little town and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. You can visit museums and historic sites in case you are interested, but we skip most and just have a quick look around. There are many stalls with all kinds of souvenirs for a good price. Little kids play around and are curious and I have some candies to give them which I took with me from home at the last minute.
After Graskop we drive to the eco-friendly Nkambeni Tented Lodge,where we are welcomed with a refreshing drink. The lodge guarantees a real bush feeling and is because it is located right on the border of Kruger National Park. The tents offer everything a comfortable hotel room normally has to offer. Some tents are right in front of the fence of the park and some are suitable for the disabled! The common areas are cosy and there is a wonderful swimming pool in a large, landscaped garden. At the back of the garden in the distance there is a pond behind the fence, where a few hippos are bathing. Immediately I want to go there, but there is no time.
After the tour at Nkambeni we drive to Casa Do Sol in Hazyview, where we will spend the night. We check in and Wendy and I freshen up quickly, because we want to walk around before it gets dark. The hotel is set up like a small village, which gives the guests some privacy. We have the luxury of being in a suite with our own little fenced garden. The gardens around the hotel are beautifully landscaped and centrally located there is an inviting swimming pool with a bar and sun beds to chill on. In the common areas there is a sitting room with a large fireplace, a bar and a restaurant with a large outdoor terrace where we have dinner tonight. The food and the wine are amazing here in South Africa. So far we have been spoilt and this trip is just one big, wonderful adventure.
Day 4: from Hazyview to Knysna
We get up early today, we have a long bus ride ahead of us (about 400 kilometres). We get a breakfast to go and drive back to OR Tambo National Airport in Johannesburg. Halfway through we stop alongside the highway to strecht our legs. There is a petrol station, supermarket, shop, ATM and rest rooms. All is really clean and not at all what I expected (what did I expect anyway?).
We arrive at the airport early in the afternoon and before we go through customs, we take the escalator to the basement, where there is a huge food court with an enormous diversity of food and drinks. I really do not know what to choose, but go for something local. We sit down for about half an hour and go back upstairs to security control.
Our domestic flight to George takes about 2 hours. We have a pleasant flight with Kulula and arrive at George at the end of the afternoon. This is where our Garden Route adventure starts!
Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller
March 5, 2012
Curious about part 2 of this trip: click here.