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The Long Report: South Africa, Botswana and Namibia

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This is going to take me quite some time but here's the first day's report. Let me know if there are any questions.

Our light to Cape Town with BA was fine though due to new seat configurations it's becoming harder and harder to be assigned extra legroom seating, even if one checks in very early. Given Pete's 6 foot 6 inches height the check in lady eventually assigned us a row (with an empty seat between us) where one of the three seats had extra legroom but required the legs to be positioned towards one side. Luckily we overheard a couple who had been assigned the emergency exit seats talking to a stewardess about moving to different seats further away from the wings (they wanted a view). We spoke to her about it and she came by later to offer us those seats, mentioning that we should move fast as she'd had to disappoint a number of other passengers who had made the same request! The flight left late not only due to late boarding passengers but also because of a discrepancy between numbers on board and boarding lists. We had already taxied for take off when we were called back to the gate to rectify this. Eventually they worked out that one passenger had checked in both on the e-terminals and also at check in and had two boarding cards! Sheesh!

During check in we had met a Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Africa Board website friend (an American I'd met recently in London and who was also heading to Africa). As her plans were last minute we had no idea we were on the same flight and celebrated by clinking plastic glasses once airborne! For most of the rest of the flight I was lucky to be able to sleep fairly well.

On arrival we made our way to the Avis desk. I was very cross to learn that I had been misadvised on sale that the cost of upgrade to Supercover for collision damage and theft (to reduce the excess) was over twice what I had been told. The lady was unable to do anything about that but did offer us an upgrade to an Automatic with CD player instead of manual with tape deck! After some confusing instructions in which we finally realised that robots were traffic lights and that Cape Town was not utilising some bladerunner form of traffic control we made our way to our guesthouse, pausing only to get some cash out at an airport ATM.

Arrived at Jambo at 10 am and met Barry, the owner, who showed us around the house and to our room. We had booked the beautiful garden suite which is in it's own wing of the house and opens out onto the pretty garden. The suite is lovely with a four poster bed, sofa and chairs, a raised dining table area and a pretty bathroom with whirpool bath. The only downside might be that it is beneath the bar but since the bar was very quiet during our stay this did not become an issue for us. Because of the season, Barry offered us a 25% discount which made this a reasonable price, though still the most expensive bed and breakfast we selected. We were also offered the standard rooms at the same discount.

Whilst the room was lovely I was disappointed to learn that Barry and his wife, Mina, were due to leave within an hour for the Indaba (Travel Industry event) in Durban and would not be back at all during our 6 night stay. They did leave us in the capable hands of their friend, Ivan but, in my opinion, a bed and breakfast is chosen not only on room details but also on the friendliness and personalities of the hosts and I felt that their absence, planned for some time, should have been mentioned on booking or afterwards, especially since I had been in touch with Barry only days before our arrival.

Note that breakfast consists of a generous continental with tea, coffee, juices, fresh breads, croissants, cheeses, hams, yogurts, cereal and fruit. A cooked breakfast can be arranged at a supplement but we felt the spread provided was perfectly adequate.

Before they left for Durban Mina spent some time going through some local maps with us and also recommended a number of their favourite restaurants.

Because the weather was so good we decided to take the cable car up Table Mountain and headed off in our car to do so. We had no problem parking though this might be more difficult at busier times of year. Taxis are easy to find in CT but be aware that all do not offer the same rate. On the sides of all taxis you will see their rate printed clearly ? anything from 7 Rand per kilometre to 10 or more.

The return trip on the Cable Car cost 80 Rand per adult and we were soon standing inside the round ready to make the ascent. The Cape Town Cable Car ascends very quickly and very steeply. It was certainly one of the more exciting cable car journeys I have taken. The revolving floor ensures that all passengers benefit from the wonderful views.

All too soon we reached the top and began to explore the surface of the mountain. The immediate area around the cable car station is beautifully landscaped with paths, safety walls and lots of large boulders and planted areas. It's very attractive and not too crowded.

We notice the point from which one can abseil down the side of the mountain ? something my sister did a couple of months previously but which appeals to neither Pete nor myself at all.

We pause for a quick, cheap lunch in the cafeteria (food is acceptable and cheap) and then spend some time walking further out over the table top along the clearly marked and well maintained paths.

On descending we tip the man who has been guarding our car and make the short drive back to Greenpoint. We are very pleased with the location of our accommodation and really pleased we went for Greenpoint over both the waterfront and less central locations such as Clifton, Seapoint, Camps Bay etc.

The rest of the afternoon is spent relaxing before our dinner at Madame Zingara's. We asked Barry to make a reservation for us. The receptionist said they were fully booked for that evening but suggested calling back for cancellations, which Ivan did while we were out and was able to reserve us a table.

We take a taxi to the restaurant where we are seated in a quiet table in a sort of corridor area between two busier rooms. We look out over an internal courtyard and feel like we're in a special private space amongst all the buzz. The tables are strewn with petals and the décor is quirky and warm.

After some lovely home-made bread Pete started with beer battered deep fried camembert with red wine, tomato, basil and oregano coulis. I enjoyed phylo (sic) parcels stuffed with smoked chicken, mozarella and spinach and served over diced white mushrooms and onions in a cream, garlic and white wine sauce. For our mains Pete had the dish for which Madame Zingara's is well known ? the chocolate chilli steak. Having an aversion to sweet sauces with his meat I was surprised at his choice and he was even more surprised at how very much he enjoyed it. The chocolate was dark and bitter and not too sweet and the chilli was quite subtle. It was rich and velvety and went very well with the top quality beef. I had a steak stuffed with bacon and blue cheese which was also delicious. For dessert I tried the chocolate cigars which were deep fried and served with vanilla ice-cream dribbled with rose-water essence. Pete saved space for Misty's Bliss which was a meringue piled high with fresh cream, summer fruits and a fruit coulis. With a bottle of cabernet sauvignon the bill came to 373 plus tip.

Our waitress called us a taxi and we returned home to fall into a deep and very comfortable sleep indeed.

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    7th May

    After breakfast we set off for the Waterfront Clock Tower area and headed straight for the Nelson Mandela Gateway. We arrived at 10 am and were able to buy tickets for the next departure at 11 am. Tickets are 150 Rand per adult. Since we had some time before we needed to board the ferry we stopped to look at the Art Gallery inside the Gateway building which sells Nelson Mandela's work. None of the items were original paintings, all were limited edition prints and yet prices were as high as £10,000 UK for one piece. I particularly liked the two designs featuring hand prints, one with several adult and child handprints and another with a single print of Mandela's hand in which the gap in the centre where his hand didn't touch paper forms an outline of Africa itself. I also liked the Struggle series and a picture from Series 1 called The Window. In fact I liked The Window so much that I really wanted to buy a bookplate size limited edition (much less expensive than the large size prints). But it was still a higher price than I had ever paid for art and Pete and I decided to think on it, since we would be in Cape Town for some days and there were plenty of prints remaining.

    At 10.45 we boarded the catamaran. If you want an outside seat I advise queuing and boarding as early as possible since the boats are very crowded. We were seated outside and enjoyed wonderful views of the harbour and of the city as we left. The journey is about 20 minutes long and we let the crowd stampede off before disembarking ourselves. I further delayed us by joining the end of the queue for the ladies, all of which meant that, by the time I came out, the bus standing by to commence the island tour was full. Significantly less than half the boat load remained and we were directed to the prison area to do the prison tour first. This worked out much better for us since we were able to spend more time with our guide in the prison and less time than normally allotted on the bus tour of the island afterwards.

    Our guide was a young ex-prisoner called Derek Parson/ Passon who was sentenced to 7 years for sabotage and served 5.5 of that. He served only part of that sentence at Robben Island and the rest at other prisons around the country. He first took us to a large communal cell and told us about the history of the prison, the life the inmates lived, his experiences as an inmate and the issues that were most relevant to him and his fellow prisoners. These included the limited and heavily censured mail service, the inadequate bedding and food and the privilege system. Derek lives on the island, as do many other ex-prisoner and ex-warden guides. He felt positive about the reconciliation between the two groups and for the social reconciliation of South Africa, though was quick to point out that economic equality was a long way ahead. This is an issue that was in my thoughts a great deal throughout my 5 weeks in Africa as I raged against the current situation of many South Africans, a situation exaggerated by years of apartheid, and yet knew too that there were no easy solutions. Mugabe has proved that redistribution isn't a straightforward concept. Derek explained that he didn't particularly want to live on the island but that he could afford the rent there more readily than on the mainland, where some staff live. His dream was to establish a career and save for his own home off Robben Island but he didn't seem hopeful about his chances of success. Next Derek took us to the yard where Mandela created his garden and to B block where political leaders were kept isolated. After the tour we thanked Derek and tipped him. I was surprised at how few visitors did so since he gave so much of his personal story for our benefit and education. Some drifted off without even a farewell or thanks.

    We then boarded a bus for a tour of the island. The views from the island coastal road were spectacular. Dan told us more of the island's history and showed us the leper cemetery, various churches, hospitals, asylums and homes, the building in which Sobukwe served his house arrest and the quarry where Block B prisoners did their manual labour. He pointed out the latrine that the prisoners had dug into the quarry wall and which became the only place in which they could hold classes to educate each other without interference from the guards.

    After our return to the boat for our 2 pm crossing back to Cape Town we stopped for a delicious lunch at Rooti's, a cape malay restaurant just next to the Gateway. We shared a bobotie (a lightly spiced mince loaf coated in a kind of omelette topping) and a well flavoured chicken curry and rooti (which is basically an Indian roti/ chapati). I enjoyed a freshly made apple milkshake. Our bill was only 132 Rand.

    Having talked about it and talked about it we went back to view the print and decided to go ahead and buy it. It took a while to fill in the forms, pay, print receipts, have it wrapped and so forth.

    Carefully carrying our new purchase we returned to Jambo, measured our painting and dropped into the shopping mall at the waterfront (in order to buy wrapping/ boxing in which to post it home) but we failed to find what we needed and instead ended up with a cool box (for later in the trip) which was on sale for only 70 Rand.

    For dinner we drove to Camps Bay and, after a walk along the shore, selected the Tides restaurant which my sister had recommended. I particularly enjoyed stopping for a drink in Traders Bar, just outside the restaurant, an elegant and peaceful bar with a view over the ocean. We enjoyed drinks with complimentary snacks of feta cheese and olives and perused the menu.

    The menu works on a prix fixe basis, 125 for 2 courses or 155 for 3 courses. Very hard to select from such a tempting menu. Before our choices were served we were presented with amuse bouche mini starters of spinach and brie parcels with raspberries and raspberry coulis. We were also given a light fruit sorbet which I think was before our main starters but may have been between starters and mains. I opted for a roast butternut and apple soup with papaya salsa and deep fried camembert. Pete went for the smoked ostrich with roast beetroot, wild rocket, parmesan shavings and horseradish dressing. For my main I had the pistachio-lemon crusted line fish (fish of the day) which was Cape Salmon, served with ginger scented rice, winter vegetables and a lime butter sauce. Pete had pan roasted loin of warthog with bacon and sweet potato gratin, red cabbage-apple sauté and a balsamic sauce. Unfortunately the excitement of the day started to catch up with me, not to mention the full meal and I suddenly crashed. Instead of dessert and/ or coffee we paid the bill and made a swift exit and drove home for an early night.


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    Kavey said: "a bed and breakfast is chosen not only on room details but also on the friendliness and personalities of the hosts and I felt that their absence, planned for some time, should have been mentioned on booking or afterwards, especially since I had been in touch with Barry only days before our arrival."

    I agree and I think it was intentional that he did not mention it to you. It is unfortunate because yes, you are definitely contracting for these particular hosts, not some friend who isn't making it his life's work to host others.

    We were also surprised that very few people tipped our guide at Robben Island.

    Looking forward to the rest of the report when it's ready!

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    8th May

    After an early shower and breakfast Pete and I are collected at Jambo by Selwyn, a Fodors Africa friend and a South African tour guide based in Cape Town. It's great to finally meet him and any doubts about whether we'd get on in person vanish within seconds. We bundle into the minivan (Pete in front next to Selwyn so that his long, long legs fit in and me behind in the passenger area) and set off to pick up Diane and Steve just around the corner. I have known Diane for a few years, having originally got to know each other on the Fodors Europe board and we had previously met twice when she and Steve visited London. Next stop is a little further away and AlisonV and her husband Larry, son Andrew and daughter Rachel climb onboard.

    We start off driving through the centre of CT and Selwyn points out various buildings and statues as he tells us all about some of the stuff the guide books don't include (such as the wind sensors for the water fountains along a main road and the story of Clinton's security guards and their run in with the Mount Nelson). He also takes us into suburbs we would never usually bother to include purely because of the wonderful panoramic views of the city below that we are afforded from their streets.

    We leave CT and head for the Paarl Afrikaans language monument. Hearing about the meanings behind the design is interesting but what fascinates me more is Selwyn's insight into the way non Afrikaans people feel about the monument, about it's place in a modern South Africa and about the strength of feeling of the Afrikaaners for it.

    A quick stop in Mooiberg farm allows us to stock up on dried fruit (which we enjoyed very much during the self-catering part of our trip) and to try and buy some unusual berry liqueurs.

    Next we dash through Stellenbosch and on to a wine tasting at Ruste en Vrede. Because of his relationship with the vineyard they allow him to conduct his own tastings and we sit out at a table in the garden for our lessons. For lesson time it is as Selwyn makes use of both oranges and cheese and has us pinching shut our nostrils in a bed to improve our tasting experience. Sadly, I'm not won over to the world of wine but Pete assures me the wine is jolly nice.

    After our tasting we stop on the grass at an estate near Spiers and enjoy a wonderful picnic that Selwyn has brought with him. Smoked snoek fish with the traditional red and green cooked and uncooked salsas, fantastic mild and spicy versions of fishcakes, lemon meringue pie and milk custard flan and some wonderful semi-sweet pink sparkling wine make up our feast. Selwyn even teaches Andrew how to open the sparkling wine bottle by slicing off ha;f the glass neck, with cork still inside.

    Our next stop is to Kayamundi township where we collect Mzwake and begin our wonderful visit. I won't go into much detail about this visit but I strongly recommend any visitor to Cape Town hook up with Selwyn and make the visit for themselves. Visiting people as guests of a dear friend of theirs and being able to learn about the history of the township from the people who live it is surely a better experience than touring with some tourguide who has no links with the township in question. Highlights include a visit to Shumi's church and home, a visit to Nozandile's home (in both cases we learn about the lives and achievments of these remarkable women), meeting many of the young kids of the township and helping Selwyn and Mzwake distribute fruit as part of the new Trash for Fruit project and watching, listening to and joining in with the wonderful Bana Ba Kgotso kid's choir who gave us a wonderful show. Selwyn is too modest to speak much of his efforts and commitment to his friends in Kayamundi but the friendship and mutual respect he and they hold for each other is very evident.

    We drive again through Stellenbosch and learn more about the history of a little statuette of a cat before continuing to Moyo. Selwyn has reserved us a table up in a tree house and it's just magical. The place is lit by hundreds of candles, oil drum fires and tree lanterns. Tables are located under canvas, up in trees and arranged around the trunk of one huge old tree. Entertainment is varied with face painting, touring singers and a band on stage too. The meal is buffet style and reasonably good with nice variety. The buffet and drinks menu are excellent value. We have a great evening together.

    After our long drive home we finally say goodbye to Selwyn after 1 am with a huge hug and happy hearts. Selwyn, thank you once again for your generosity of time and spirit. We had the most marvellous experience and enjoyed every minute.

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    9th May

    After a lie in and late breakfast we walked over to the Greenpoint Market just across the main road. I really enjoyed browsing this market and it offered a wonderful range of items since there were vendors selling locally produced goods as well as vendors from across the continent selling crafts more typical to their region of Africa..

    I fell for some stone carved intertwined giraffes. I looked throughout the market at similar carvings before choosing the stall with the best quality stock (in my opinion). I was able to knock the price down by 50% easily. I am sure I could have pushed it down much further but didn't feel the need to since I was more than happy to pay the price I reached.

    Look out for items such as wooden and stone carved animals (including some wonderful heavy stone bookends with the front half of a rhino or elephant forming one of the pair and the other back half forming the matching partner piece), beautiful polished wood bowls and serving trays, wooden masks and carvings of tall, stylised people, Ostrich eggs that have been carved, painted or had printed designs glued and glazed on to them, colourful metal and bead work in all sorts of shapes from bowls to chameleons to magazine racks, jewellery in every colour, design and material, clothes, belts, shoes?

    After shopping (where I was very restrained having already spent on my Mandela print more than I intended on spending for shopping on the entire trip) we crossed the road for lunch in Wang Thai. We spotted Diane and Steve having lunch in a restaurant on the way and chatted for a while before digging into a delicious Thai meal. It was interesting to note that Thai food in South Africa is very similar indeed to Thai food in the UK. That's not as silly as it sounds since we've found Chinese food to vary in the UK, the USA and other European countries. Perhaps Thai restaurants have remained closer to the authentic recipes whereas Chinese food has gradually adapted to the palates of different countries?

    After lunch we returned to Jambo for our car and headed to Kirstenbosch Gardens. The weather was a little overcast with occasional drizzle but this didn't spoil our enjoyment of these wonderful gardens. We walked around enjoying the planting and wonderful mountain backdrop though we only saw a fraction of the gardens. We really enjoyed the "glass house" and spent quite a lot of time there. We stopped in the tea shop and I enjoyed some of the best scones I have ever had, complete with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and we paused in the shop for some postcards and stamps. The stamps I was given were in booklets of 10 and were 2 each of paintings of the Big Five. Very pretty stamps.

    Headed home and Pete did an amazing job of creating customised boxes (one inside the other) from a huge potato chips box I'd obtained from a supermarket at the waterfront. We had also bought some bubble wrap and parcel tape and by the time he finished we knew our Mandela print would survive being posted home better than being carried around Africa for 7.5 weeks!

    For dinner we went to Willoughby's in the waterfront. It's a very casual restaurant/ diner in the Waterfront which is frequented mostly by locals. It was recommended to us by a number of Capetonians as a place offering tasty and well-priced food in an unpretentious environment. I had a lovely tuna tempura dish and a half order of sashimi. Pete had some panzarotti pasta filled with spinach and ricotta and served in a tomato sauce. With a couple of drinks our bill was only 163 Rand.

    We ended our evening having a drink with Ivan back in the little pub at Jambo.

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    10 May

    We get up and out early so we can post the Mandela print before heading off for the day. My initial intention is to use a courier service such as FedEx but when I ask them for a quote they say it will cost 980 Rand!!! I go to the post office who quietly tell me that FedEx actually bring everything to them to post anyway so I'm glad I didn't pay out. The post office charge 600 for the exact service that FedEx were selling or 170 for a slower air mail service. I choose that and add 40 Rand for insurance up to 2000 Rand value and point to the fact we've scrawled FRAGILE in large letters on every side of the parcel.

    We get back in the car and head for Cape Point. We pass through numerous pretty towns including Muizenberg, St James and Kalk Bay, noticing the railway line that runs right on the coast between us and the water. That journey must offer great views!

    We stop first at Boulders though we must have missed the first turn off (which allows you to park next to the visitor's centre) as we find ourselves by a the Penguin Restaurant (or something like that) and a smaller ticket booth. We stop and enjoy lattes at the restaurant before buying tickets and heading off towards the main area. It's quite a long walk but with beautiful views. When we arrive we find the wooden walkways somewhat busy ? a large coach load of Japanese tourists have arrived and I must admit to finding the very loud conversations somewhat intrusive and detrimental to the peaceful nature of the location. Still we focus on the penguins and their very sweet babies and take lots of pictures. Actually I don?t take too many as I realise I have forgotten my zoom lens but Pete videos them and I take a few snaps.

    We head back to the beach near where we have parked our car and are pleased to find it virtually empty (a few people join us briefly but don't stay long). Pete stands back on the sand and starts videoing two penguins swimming in the sea. As he's filming they come out of the water, walk up to him and start pecking gently at his feet until he moves out of the way and then continue on around the rock and up onto some large boulders. They are absolutely habituated to humans and most seem to ignore us though this pair are obviously a little more forward than most!

    We continue our drive on to Cape Point and enter the reserve after buying our tickets. We have a quick lunch at the Two Oceans restaurant. The food is as we expect, reasonable but nothing special and slightly over priced however it's convenient (given the time we arrived) and the views are nice. We have a moment of excitement when a large baboon dashes inside, grabs some food from a diner's plate before being chased loudly back outside again. Two tourists standing on the balcony abandon camera pouches (left open on a table) and retreat and the baboon grabs a lens case, dropping the lens onto the floor, before finally moving on.

    We pay for a return trip on the furnicular up to the viewpoints at the top and walk arund admiring the scenes. Jagged rocks plunging down into slightly foaming turquoise and navy blue waters, occasional sweeps of golden beach, a range of plants and flowers clinging to the sides? beautiful.

    As Pete climbs up towards the old lighthouse I stop for a rest in the building at the top of the furnicular where I run into Selwyn, who has Cookie and her daughter with him. We had no idea he would be here today, nor he us, so it's quite a surprise. Even more so when Alison, Larry, Andrew and Rachel suddenly appear on the arriving funicular! Pete comes back down from the light house and we have a little reunion! We also make plans to meet the Verkades for dinner in Franschhoek in a couple of nights time since we're all keen to try Selwyn's recommendation of Delicious, open for dinner on Wednesday's only.

    We return to the car and take some of the circular drives off the main road in the reserve before exiting and heading back to Cape Town on the West coast of the peninsula. Just outside the entrance are some craft stalls. They are clearly not getting much passing trade at all and I'm delighted to find two stone soap dishes with little hippos "swimming" in each one ? both seem better in quality and detail of design than similar ones I saw at Greenpoint and I'm able to get them for a third of the opening price.

    Shortly after this stop we encounter a huge stone carvings market with some really large pieces. This place is amazing. The range of designs is impressive (both modern and more traditional) and the quality excellent. We stop for a look around (and a few photos) before heading on.

    The views along the coast are stunning, even before we take the Chapman's Peak drive (20 Rand per car). Workers are still labouring on upgrades to the road including protective walls to guard against landslides so there are many go-slow stretches but this suits us fine as the scenery is stunning and the drive slightly terrifying at any great speed.

    After arriving home we head to the waterfront where we have a reservation at Baia for dinner. We browse in the Red Shed craft warehouse first and buy a number of prints of watercolours that we really like. Priced at 35 Rand and 45 Rand depending on size we choose 5 altogether.

    Dinner at Baia is excellent. Service is attentive and staff are friendly and helpful. I have grilled calamari and then panfried baby kingklip (that I ask the kitchen to debone for me) and Pete has a trio of steaks with different sauces ? ostrich, kudu and springbok. The portions are generous and the quality very good so he's relieved he didn't have a starter. My dishes are both very fresh and full of flavour. For dessert we share a chocolate pudding with ice cream and butterscotch and a heavenly amarula mousse. With a non alcoholic cocktail and a glass of wine the bill is 343 Rand. Baia is a very elegant restaurant, one where you could dress up a little and not feel out of place. (Many of CT's restaurants are quite casual).

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    11th May

    Enjoy a long leisurely breakfast chatting to fellow guests and offer them a lift to the waterfront since we are intending to pop by and buy some CDs from the CD Warehouse anyway and it's no trouble to drop them near Robben Island first. Most CDs are not far off prices in the UK but there is an entire section of compilation/ best of CDs of artists from the 1980s that we quite like such as Level 42, Go West etc. Buy 5 CDs at only 40 Rand each plus one full price (Duran's greatest hits; excellent car music!).

    Also pop into Baia to pick up a photocopy of the menu and treat myself to a massage in the Blue Shed which has a number of stalls offering such treatments. As they are quiet I negotiate a half hour massage for only 100 Rand.

    We enjoy lunch at Harry's Pancake House next to the Robben Island Gateway. It's absolutely delicious and even better than I had expected. The pancakes are really thick and yet very light and fluffy. Mine is stuffed with ostrich ragout and cheese sauce. Pete's is stuffed with Thai chicken. I even squeeze in a dessert pancake but really shouldn't have!

    After lunch we drove to the Bo Kaap quarter for a look around. It's interesting to see the colourfully painted houses but there seemed to be few attractions in the area that merit staying long.

    We also drove up to Signal Point but the fog came rolling in restricting our view so much that we couldn't even see the tops of the trees by the roadside ? the trunks just disappeared into the white fog.

    We relaxed back at Jambo for most of the afternoon. We had intended to walk to a local eatery for dinner but when we did we just couldn't make a decision and ended up in the waterfront at a casual place called City Grill where we had burgers and beer before an early night.

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    12th May

    This morning we are checking out after breakfast so have the boring tasks of packing, paying etc. We bid farewell to Ivan and head off for Franschhoek, arriving at the Plumwood Inn early at 11.20.

    However our room, the Vineyard room, is ready and waiting. The guest house is lovely. It's location couldn't be better ? on the outskirts of Franschhoek, overlooking vineyards and yet only a 2 minute walk into the centre of town and to several great restaurants. The bright yellow exterior is well maintained and very inviting and the room is lovely. Whilst not a large room the décor and furnishings are attractive and comfortable and the bathroom spacious with a bath tub for nice hot soaks. The living room is absolutely beautiful ? a double height room with a casual ambiance and large comfy leather sofas, it's a nice place to pause and read a book or chat to hosts Roel and Lucienne. They are a young Dutch couple who visited SA on holiday and decided to change careers and move continents. Roel offers as a tea/ coffee as we look through their information booklet on local restaurants and menus and review our existing bookings/ ideas. Lucienne kindly makes our new bookings for us (and cancels the existing one).

    We drive to Cotage Fromage (in the Vrede en Lust estate) for lunch as I recall Selwyn recommending it on the Fodors board. I have breadcrumbed, deep fried gorgonzola which is served with ciabatta, biltong and berry sauce. Pete opts for the Connoisseur's Cheese Board for one person which has portions of 9 different cheeses. It's served with some lovely raisin bread, a balsamic and olive oil dip and 3 pots of deli salads ? mushrooms, olives and mixed vegetables. Pete also tries two different wines by the glass and I a hot chocolate and manage only a fraction of an immense slice of lemon cheesecake. As I'm struggling with that in walks Selwyn with Cookie and daughter! We motion for them to join us and enjoy catching up on our recent experiences before Pete and I settle the (very reasonable) bill and head on.

    Since we're already there we stop for a tasting at Vrede en Lust. Pete judges their reds as good but needing time. If we were in France and could drive them home easily to store for a year or two he'd consider taking a few bottles but we're buying just for him to enjoy on the rest of the trip so we don't take any. We do enquire about shipping but it doubles the costs per bottle. Cheaper to simply buy what the wine merchants import back into the UK.

    After the tasting I drive for the first time since we've arrived in South Africa. The brakes are very sensitive so I'm glad that the roads are so empty as we continue on to Stellenbosch.

    Pete's next tastings are at the Warwick vineyard where we're greeted by an English ex-banker who has given up his career to study for a wine diploma. The wines are nice but still no purchases. We then drive to Muratie where Pete does buy two bottles of cabernet sauvignon and I taste and buy a dessert wine. Last on today's route is Kanonkop where we encounter a lively group of South Africans clearly well down the list of their chosen vineyards. Pete buys 1 bottle of the Kadette (an inexpensive blend) plus 2 bottles of the more expensive cabernet sauvignon. The lady here teaches us a little about the larger sizes of bottles available and how size of bottle impacts on the maturation and life of the wine inside.

    We figure 4 sessions are quite enough for one day and head back to the lovely Plumwood to settle in and unpack. A while before we leave for dinner we join Roel and Lucienne in the living room for a port and a chat and Lucienne kindly shows me their larger superior room. It's a nice room, larger bed, more space and a bigger bathroom too but no more charming than the standard room that we're in.

    After drinks we head for Delicious just a few minutes walk away. Owned and managed by the same people sa Le Quartier Francais, Delicious is a popular deli for takeaway and lunches and opens for dinner only one night a week. We've arranged to meet the Verkades there for dinner and find them waiting inside for us.

    Conversation is lively and fun ? Canadian and British senses of humour have a lot in common ? and the food is great too. I have a cheese souffle with a rocket and walnut dressing followed by roasted sirloin on spring onion mash. Pete has deep fried brie followed by a stir fry chicken. My chocolate bread and butter pudding is delicious but Pete's keener on his white chocolate mousse. All excellent value and a very enjoyable evening.

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    13 May

    Breakfast at Plumwood is elegant and delicious. Alongside a spread of cereals, fruit and yoghurts we enjoy croissants fresh from the oven and some bacon and eggs too.

    After that great start to the day we head off through the spectacular Franschhoek Pass. The views over the valleys are truly uplifting and I find myself just grinning in the car. We continue on through another mountain pass to Worcester via a dam and the resulting plain of ghostly dead trees.

    Whilst Worcester's central square seems pretty enough we aren't tempted to stay and fail to locate any of the town's port vineyards. Just before we leave we stumble across The Barn Art Gallery & Coffee Shop and stop for a latte. The gallery isn't huge but has an attached store selling foodie gifts and I buy a little pot of olive jam for my mum.

    We take the N1 back towards Cape Town so that we can drive through the Du Toit Pass. More breathtaking views! Even with all the reading and research I hadn't grasped quite how extensive the mountain ranges in this region are. Beautiful!

    Heading back towards Franschhoek we stop at Le Petit Ferme for lunch where I have the slow roasted lamb wrapped in aubergine and Pete has the fillet of beef en croute (which is not so much in a crust as sitting on a crouton) served with brandy mushroom sauce. The bill including drinks is 193 Rand. The views are pretty but I'd advise booking in advance to secure a table by one of the windows with the best views. Our window table looked down onto another terrace of tables which themselves had window views out over the valley.

    This afternoon it's my turn to taste and we head for vineyards listed in the local wine route guides as offering dessert wines. Graham Beck is a real contrast to most estates in the region as it's starkly modern and the gardens are dotted with some wonderful scultpures. We sign in, park and head for the tower tasting room. I really like their dessert wine very much and take a couple of bottles. Apparently the low prices reflect the simpler, shorter process of creating sweet wines and I'm all to happy to benefit.

    Our next visit is to L'Ormarin which is a huge estate. After signing in it's a long, long drive to the spectacular tasting hall. This room has double height ceilings which are panelled in carved wood, ornate furniture and a beautiful floor. Unfortunately they have no dessert wine, just a port which I do enjoy but am not interested in buying.

    We continue on to Dieu Donne which has no dessert wines ready for tasting. The setting of the tasting hall is just beautiful as it has garden tables just outside looking out over the valley below.

    On the way home we pause at the Old Corkscrew ? no great surprise ? just lots of old corkscrews ? as the name implies and a selection of other antiques but a good photo opportunity nonetheless.

    We pause at the chocolate "factory" but their tours for the next few days are already full so I buy a few consolation chocolates, browse a couple of arts and crafts gallery shops and we head back to Plumwood Inn.

    We decide to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool and Roel kindly brings us a tray of tea and coffee. A little cold to swim but perfect weather to sit back on the loungers and read.

    We enjoy another lovely drink and chat with Roel and Lucienne before heading out to Le Bon Vivante. What can I tell you? I absolutely loved this restaurant and definitely had one of the most memorable meals I have ever had here. The restaurant was very quiet (which never bothers me as much as it does some folk) and we sat at a table right by the huge glass window into the kitchen. That meant we could watch owner-chef Pierre crafting our meals which was certainly fascinating. Before our order arrives we are served a little amuse bouche each of tomato ravioli filled with camembert served in an espresso cup with potato froth and a little crispbread on top. Next comes the bread layered through with dutch cumin cheese and served with a selection of dips. Pete's starter is cube shaped fried blue cheese croquettes. Mine is more complex as I opted for the "combination of hot and cold starters". My plate has a tempura prawn on a bed of diced mushrooms, some poached trout and marinated trout, a tiny serving of courgette soup, some feta cheese croquettes with pears and red sauce and a serving of springbok shank and marinated sprinbok. This sounds rather filling but whilst each item is bursting with flavour the tiny servings mean I still have space for the main course. Which is just as well as I love my fillet of roast duck which comes not only with a selection of vegetables but with a little portion of duck stew served in a hen egg shell! Pete has gemsbok venison with vegetables and mushroom penne ? each tube of penne is stuffed with diced mushrooms. Somehow we squeeze in desserts and enjoy a chocolate parfait with grape sorbet and a coffee mousse with melon balls and coulis. Delicious! I haven't written down the bill but I am confident it was less than 400 Rand - absolutely excellent value for such an education in flavours, textures and presentation.

    As we walk back to Plumwood we gaze up at the incredible African night sky and spot what we're sure is a planet. We make a guess based on it's uneven shape that it's Saturn with it's rings but find out later that it's Jupiter with it's moons. Whatever we're looking at you can be sure we don't get skies like this in London!

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    14 May

    Today's breakfast is even more delicious as Lucienne has tried a scone recipe from a new recipe book she has just bought and the results are wonderful. Alongside some fruit, bacon and eggs it's the perfect start to the day.

    We set off on the scenic drive to Hermanus which takes us again through the stunning Franschhoek Pass (where we encounter baboon troops on the road) and then through Villiersdop and on to Hermanus.

    We arrive just before noon and park the car before strolling along the coast and in the town. There is a small craft market set up on the ground by the car park and we browse without buying before deciding it's time for lunch.

    We choose to have an inexpensive lunch in Ocean Basket and I have calamari and chips, Pete has "feesh and chips" which turns out to be a nice bit of hake.

    After lunch we head back along a different route that takes us across the TheesWaterKloof Dam.

    When we reach Franschhoek we head for Rickety Bridge vineyards. We proceed down the beautiful driveway and follow the signs along long avenues lined with golden trees, ooohing at the spectacular mountain backdrop and the quaint white-painted dutch cape houses.

    We came after Pete enjoyed an inexpensive red called Duncan's Creek at dinner last night but on tasting he's tempted by their Paulina's Reserve. The sales lady is very busy on the phone but does tell us we can purchase the wines direct in the UK from Le Roque Bistro in Newbury.

    We stop to rest over lattes and cakes at Café Bordeaux (their helpings are a little too generous but very delicious) and browse a few galleries before retiring to Plumwood Inn.

    Tonight, after drinks in the lounge, we head to Topsi & Co. We are the only customers and so we're able to engage in long chats with Topsi herself along with her sous-chef Leonard who only 2 months previously was a manager in a CD shop! His parrot Oscar hops around the floor by our feet but Topsi's own African Grey is feeling shy and we only hear him from the back room.

    I have a smoked trout and goat's cheese sauce starter followed by calves liver with basil and coconut rice. Pete has a chicken liver terrine followed by smoked angelfish with a blue cheese sauce, served with pok choi and pickled carrots. The restaurant doesn't have an alcohol license so we bring our own wine with us.

    The food is not actually as good as I'd hoped but the conservations with Topsi, who tells us all about her career and experiences, is a great draw.

    On our return to Plumwood Inn we chat again to Roel and Lucienne and finish our open bottles of wine.

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    Selwyn - your post is time stamped at 8:52am in NY - bending the elbow early are we? <hic> <hic>

    Kavey - girl, drink as much SWEEEET as you wish, it's your tummy! Great report so far, loving it!

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    Heh heh! Selwyn did try and "ejerkate" my palette at Ruste en Vrede but I just don't have a taste for anything even remotely dry.

    If it hadn't been sweet wine it would have been an equally sweet orange juice or perhaps that yummy passionfruit cordial with lemonade so the dessert wine was a perfect alternative. And it WAS a cape dessert wine!

    :D

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    15 May

    Leisurely breakfast chatting to another couple staying just one night before packing and saying farewell. I ask to buy a small pot of Lucienne's wonderful homemade gooseberry jam to enjoy when we're selfcatering but Lucienne generously gifts it to me. Very sweet.

    The views from the Franschhoek Pass never get boring and we enjoy them a last time as we head to Swellendam on the N2. We're soon driving through prime farming country ? large and colourfield fields patchworking the low hills, backed by the continuous string of mountains.

    The owners of Aan de Oever are absent just for the day to drive their daughter to a distant school sporting event. They let me know of this apologetically before we left the UK and arranged for a friend working in a neighbouring bed and breakfast to meet, greet and assist us.

    When we arrive at 12.40 Janet is waiting and shows us around the guest house, gardens and to our room. She also lets us see the honeymoon suite with 3 single beds (two of which are usually made up as a double), a large seating area with fireplace, a private deck and a large bathroom with a walk-in double shower. Our standard double room is also delightful. It opens through double french doors directly outside onto the front lawn area. It's modern, comfortable and airy and has a lovely bathroom (with a strangely shallow bath tub). The owners have also kindly given me an absolutely superb rate and we pay less for this beautiful room (and breakfast) than any other accommodation throughout the trip.

    My sister has suggested we eat an evening meal at the Old Gaol (which is just a minute's walk from our bed and breakfast) but as it's closed this evening we take lunch there instead. My spiced butternut squash soup is thick, creamy, perfectly spiced and wonderfully rich in flavour and is served with wonderful fresh bread. Pete has an open sandwich with farm cheese and greek salad toppings. With a beer and a homemade lemonade the bill is just 66 Rand.

    We browse the shops nearby and then return for the car and head for the nearby Bontebok Park. The 5 km of gravel road makes for slow going and when we get to the gate we decide that 60 Rand per person entry fee is just too high for a park in which we'd intended to spend no more than an hour. On the drive back we spot an animal that we decide, with the help of our mammal field guide, is probably a grey rhebok. We're not absolutely sure though!

    Then we head over to the Faerie Sanctuary ? the absolutely funniest attraction we visit during the entire trip. One lady's passion for fairies has resulted in her and her husband's endeavours to create a place which is dedicated to the creatures and the large garden is full of the most bizaare collection of statues, toys, signs, toadstools and other mystical objects. Once we've toured the garden, giggling, we enter the house where we find a series of rooms have been made into a grotto/ shop. The woman is dressed in what looks like a bed sheet and is handing out photocopies of fairytales and enthusing about how wonderful it is that so many people must feel the same about fairies as she does. I am not sure she has a clue that she's missed most peoples' motivations for visiting. Still it's kind of sweet and she is obviously happy. We sign the book and pop in the 5 Rand per person suggested donation before heading back to Aan de Oever to enjoy the extensive back garden. There's a river running along the back edge of the garden and a small swimming pool too.

    After a lazy afternoon we head to the restaurant in nearby guesthouse Roosjes, which Riaan & Julie have suggested and reserved for us. I have two starters together as my main ? Sydneyside Squid (deep fried with mild and sweet chilli sauce on a bed of peppers) plus Snails on Brie (where the normal garlic butter snails dish is supplemented by a dollop of brie below each snail which has melted into a lovely ooze). Pete has an Americano pizza. For dessert we share a light malva pudding served with a thin custard and ice cream. It's essentially a very light toffee sponge and it's delicious. With a couple of beers and a can of grapetise the bill is 152 Rand.

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    16 May

    The next morning we arrive for breakfast at 8.30 and meet Riaan and Julie. First we are served a fruit plate each and some fresh juice, tea and coffee. Then we are served a cooked breakfast (to order). Everything is very elegant.

    After breakfast we wander around the gardens with Riaan who talks us through the current building project. He's extending the guesthouse upwards to add two huge luxury rooms which will essentially be additional honeymoon suites. I think they will be just beautiful. He also takes a quick digital snap of the two of us ? he does this for all guests (with their permission) and finds it very helpful when guests book return stays and he can remind himself what they look like.

    We check out, pay, sign the guest book and are given a sweet little paper bag with a label reading "drive safely" and a banana, orange and two little muffins. What a sweet and thoughtful touch!

    We head off to Oudtshoorn via the Tradouw Pass and the R62. It's a very scenic route and we pass through lots of small towns and open country. The road is not very busy and it's a relaxing drive. Well, of course, Pete's the one driving, so it's very relaxing for me!

    We arrive at Thylitshia Villa (a few km outside of the town) at about 1pm and are shown to our room, number 6, which is the end room just near the pool. It's very small but quite sweet with split stable doors. The furniture is a little too antique (i.e. worn) for my preferences but the room is pretty, clean and peaceful.

    We dump our bags and head straight for the Cango Caves which are quite a drive out of Oudtshoorn. We arrive at 1.40 and buy tickets for the 2.00 pm tour (40 Rand each). That gives us time to grab a plate of chips and a cold drink before joining our guide John Fred. He's an excellent guide, managing to really inject enthusiasm into his explanations despite doing the same tour day after day. He's also one of the campest men I've ever met. He takes us through several caves talking to us about the geology, the various formations, how the original discovers accessed the caves before the openings, stairs and paths were created and also about the vandalism that still occurs. Visitors surreptitiously chop off smaller stalactites that have taken hundreds of thousands, even millions of years to form. The tour lasts about 50 minutes after which we stop for a proper lunch in the restaurant. We enjoy a burger and potato wedges out on the terrace, chatting to two South African girls who were in our tour group and are taking a garden route holiday.

    Leaving Cango Caves we head for the Ruste en Vrede Falls. We arrive at 3.55 and pay are 15 Rand before being told that the gates close at 4.30 and we have almost 3 kms to drive there and back plus a "400 metres" ealk from the car park to the falls. Infact that walk is longer and quite slow going as it's along narrow rocky ledges, up and down stairs and back and forth across the water on narrow metal bridges. We spend only minutes at the falls before turning back. The falls are pretty but I think we'd have enjoyed them much less if we had to share those narrow paths with lot of other visitors.

    After returning to Thylitshia we have tea on the verandah of the main building before relaxing a while. We head back to town for dinner at Jemima's. What a wonderful experience! The food is delicious, service friendly and prices very reasonable. Amuse bouches of choux pastry with goats cheese and pesto are served first. Another surprise is the lovely sourdough bread served with butter and a bowl of aubergine and cheese spread. Then Pete has a duck liver pate and brioche that's so good I want to come back tomorrow for lunch and dinner and eat nothing but that. Sadly Jemima's is closed the next day. My starter is also quite good ? ostrich tartar with mushrooms, rocket and parmesan ? but not as special as Pete's. I failed to write down the mains or desserts so I can't tantalise your taste buds any further! We did sign the guest book and thank both the Le Roux Sisters, Annette and Celia before we left.

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    17 May

    After breakfast we head to the Cango Wildlife Ranch. Guided tours start at fixed times so we explore some of the animal enclosures whilst waiting for the next slot. The meerkats are active and it's fun to watch them taking turns as lookout, standing upright and gazing all around, alertly. We also check out the various snakes in a small building with glass tanks before walking over to visit the goats and the pygmy hippos. These are strange little creatures and very hard to see in the wild. They aren't just a small replica of the hippo we know and love but have different head and body shapes and they live in very different habitats. A little after 10 our guide starts the tour by taking us around the alligators and crocodiles enclosure. The animals are separated by age group with some of the more aggressive individuals isolated completely. It's winter so they aren't very active. I'm surprised by how bright the yellow interior of their mouths are. After this we head over to the Big Cats area and peer at white and regular tigers (same species just a pigmentation mutation), lions, cheetahs, pumas and jaguars. One of the tigers gave birth exactly one week ago but hardly any staff have seen the cubs yet let alone visitors. We watch her sitting on top of a shed in her cage but the cubs are probably hidden inside. We pay the extra 50 Rand to go inside with the cheetahs and are able to stroke them and feel how wiry and thick their fur is ? not at all what I expected! After lunch (crocodile tastes like fishy, chewy chicken) we spend some time watching the keepers feed the two 15 month old tiger cubs before heading back to visit the Cameroon Dwarf Goats. One is particularly friendly so I pay a couple of Rand for some feed and go into the enclosure to feed him. It's so much fun! Even Pete is tempted to have a go!

    We certainly didn't expect to spend more than a few hours at the wildlife ranch so adjust our afternoon plans. We decide to drive the beautiful Meereingspoort Pass. It's a beautiful drive through deep, narrow rock chasms. The road follows the river at the bottom and is designed to ford the river itself at many locations, however the water levels are low at the moment so we don't get our tires wet at all. We stop at a visitor centre and Pete makes the steep climb to view the falls whilst I bird watch down below.

    On our return to Thylitshia the hostess, Monica, takes us to visit the ostriches and then on to taste the wines, brandy and eau de vie. We spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool chatting to two elderly South African couples travelling together on holiday. They are charming folks and we enjoy their company over dinner. The meal is very mediocre but we laugh such a lot. A young German couple are also present and one of them shows us his wonderful astronomy photographs. They are visiting a South African observatory during their trip and he has brought prints along to share with friends there. If you stay at Thylitshia I wouldn't recommend dinner there, it's just not good value or an enjoyable meal compared with the many excellent options we've experienced so far.

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    18 May

    After breakfast it was time to check out. On our arrival I'd asked about laundry. I'd been told that the price was 45 Rand for a load and that if we wanted any done we should leave the laundry on the bathroom floor and the maids would take it. We had decided not to bother and had not left any clothes on the bathroom floor. We did have two bags of dirty clothes which were in the corner of our room with our luggage bags (no where near the bathroom). When we came to pack I couldn't find the smaller (almost empty) one and finally thought to ask Monica if the maids had taken it. She returned my laundry and charged us 45 Rand. I pointed out that 1 pair of trousers, 2 tops and a bra hardly constituted a load and that it was a bit cheeky to charge when we very expressly hadn't left the bag in any location that might suggest to the maids we wanted it taken but she shrugged. Whilst it's a minor point it did sum up the attitude at Thylitshia which often struck me as a little money grabbing. This was the only guest house where we were charged extra for the pot of tea that we had one afternoon.

    We headed off for Knysna via George and stopped briefly at the Sedgefield craft market. The craft market was hugely disappointing, as was the craft shop. The Scarab workshop was vaguely interesting though the paper isn't really made of elephant dung so much as it uses a little bit of it alongside lots of regular recycled paper. I think it's included more for marketing than anything.

    We stopped to view the Map of Africa in Wilderness but decided it probably only looks like a map of Africa to a one eyed man who is squinting into the sun! Still, it was a sweet little drive.

    The views as you drive into Knysna really are beautiful. The coast weaves a complicated line and the road sometimes passes over the water itself on small bridged expanses.

    When we arrive at Inyathi we are charmed by the steep little plot but a little put off by our cabin. The main reason for this is the incredibly flimsy double door which is completely glass fronted and secured with a single lock. A hard pull would easily break it open. But we have also been given use of the attached children's room next door which has a much more secure door and once we have settled in the cabin grows on us. Our bed is on a ledge and reminds me of a ship's berth. The bathroom is large and stained glass windows paint beautiful light patterns inside the cabin. It's a comfortable room and the price is good though we get the impression that it's marketed to younger clients and might tend towards a slightly drunken student party atmosphere during busy months. There are barbeque facilities available.

    We drive out to the Eastern Head for lunch and enjoy sitting outside watching boats pass us and the little (old) lighthouse from the terrace of the Easterm Heads Café. Pete has an omelette and chips and I have an open sandwich with lots of fillings. With drinks it's 77 Rand.

    After lunch we head back to the cabin and call Selwyn as we've realised that it might be easier for us to be based at Storms River for the night after we do our tree tops tour. He also gives us contact details for Headman, an Eyethu guide at Addo, and I call him to make a booking.

    We take a drive to Plettenberg Bay and spend some driving around but aren't really grabbed so we change our plans on impulse and head over to Storms River village. There we make a booking at the Storms River Guest Lodge for the 20th and also book a place on the tree top canopy tour for the same date.

    On another of Selwyn's recommendations we enjoy a wonderful dinner at La Leorie restaurant which is almost opposite Inyathi. By the way, we decide that we're not really that keen on central Knysna and would opt to stay in a suburb next time. That said most of the economic accommodation choices are central.

    Le Leorie was named (by previous owners who were poor at spelling) after the famous Knysna Lourie bird. It's now a french restaurant and we enjoy chatting to the hosts, Sandy and her husband Abdel. Abdel is the chef so is mostly in the kitchen though he does come out to chat. Sandy looks after the front of house. I have the Coquilles de la Mer with an orange butter sauce and Pete has Camembert Pane. Then he has a lovely chicken marsala and I have a very tender beef Fillet La Loerie. The chef is generous with the sauces which I always appreciate. For dessert we share the crepes gateaux (which is an absolutely incredible "cake" made from layers and layers of thin pancakes and a lemony sauce) and amarula truffles served with ice cream. With a carafe of wine plus some soft drinks and tea and coffee the bill is only 333 Rand.

    And best of all, it's just a few short steps (and a little bit of a climb) back to our cabin.

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    Kavey,

    As your trip report grows in size the more exciting the area you traveled in becomes. It truly is a wonderful journey of expereinces to read. Whatever you do please dont stop until you get to the end which I know is still quite a way to go. :)

    Thanks a ton for taking the time to write this all.

    Very proudly part of the wonderful ((r)) nation of South Africa


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    Selwyn, funny you say that I was just thinking that I was probably inflicting this on the board as I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to read it.
    I'm writing it up in Word for myself anyhow so I'll continue to post it!
    Thanks!

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    Kavey,
    I, for one, am actually reading all of them. So the more you post, the more I will read. And enjoy.

    I'm still in shock you got to pet a cheetah. I'm soooo sooooo jealous!

    And just to let you know, I'm very interested in reading the "rest of the story".

    By the way, pictures...any time soon? :-"

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    Sorry, pictures no time soon - there are thousands and it's just so daunting to sort through and process them that I'm putting it off and off and off ... and I do have other tasks that I ought to do first...

    I promise I'll post a link when I do get them up though!

    Thanks for letting me know someone's reading!!!!!!

    ;)

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    Kavey,

    We've all been waiting months for this report - of course we're reading. There were many days while you were away where I thought "wonder where Kavey is now". Must admit though that I'm impatient for the safari bits (sorry Selwyn, but that's the current obsessions!)

    Keep writing girl!

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    Oh Kavey, I love reading your reports. It's the details that make it real. I appreciate all the time it takes to write. The remembering, the reliving and then writing. Having not been to Africa yet, except Casablanca in '66, I can learn by reading itineraries, but I can "travel" reading your reports....And then what?

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    Kavey,

    I've already confessed elsewhere on this board how impatient I am. You've left us in the middle of your wonderful journey.

    Please please let us have another instalment - tantrums are brewing :'(

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    19th May

    After breakfast this morning we set off for a driving tour of the area, starting with an insight into how the other half live in the village of Belvedere. Rather charming houses though the atmosphere was non-existent! Then we drove up hill to a viewpoint offering spectacular views of the lagoon and on to Brenton on Sea and Lake Brenton. After that we really enjoyed a hair-raising drive along Phantom Pass and back via the N2. I'm glad we didn't meet anyone coming from the opposite direction! We stopped to browse at a few craft stalls along the roadside and just to admire the lovely views. The crafts were disappointing so we pootled along to Forest Gate (east of Knysna) but the selection was uninspiring there too. Really we were just enjoying the lovely views whilst driving.

    We dropped the car back at Inyathi and walked across to a casual restaurant called 28 On Main. I really enjoyed my Thai Chicken Curry Pancake and Pete had a nice one with herby mince, cheese, sour cream and jalapenos. With one beer the bill was 75 Rand.

    After that filling stop we walked down to the waterfront and looked into boating trips. I think that the choice of times was limited because of the season and we settled for a 2pm trip on the ferry. I'd have liked to take the catamaran trip but didn't want to hang around until 4. We sat outside at the front and were given very welcome blankets to keep us warm when we were on the move. Our guide was pretty interesting and related lots of stories about how various villages, parts of the lagoon and land parcels got their names. She told us about the Featherbed Reserve including how it was named and about the guy who created it. She told of ships that had floundered trying to come into the calm waters of the lagoon and the work of a gentleman who saved many more from doing so. Because the waters had calmed down we were able to get right out between the heads though the ferry doesn't continue out into the open sea like the catamarans do. We reached the quay again at around 3.15 and stopped for a coffee. The two girls we'd met at the Cango Caves walked by and waved through the window at us.

    We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling in our cabin reading books and writing the diary. We had intended to go to the Chinese restaurant in the square neighbouring Inyathi but decided it was too expensive. The dishes were priced as they would be at home in London whereas other restaurants in South Africa were significantly cheaper than London prices. So we went to a restaurant called Changes in the same square. I had an unusual and tasty marrow bone starter with toast and a meaty red wine and onion sauce. Pete had a chunky vegetable soup. My ostrich medallions in pepper sauce were too hot for me to finish ? I can only assume the chef dropped the entire contents of his pepper mill in the sauce by mistake. The flavour was great but it was just too hot to finish. They did bring me some natural yoghurt to calm the tastebuds when I explained the problem but didn't offer to exchange the dish or cook me a fresh portion. Pete had chicken stuffed with spinach and feta. We shared a dessert of pancakes with hot spiced bananas, amarula and ice cream. I didn't make a note of our bill but it was reasonable.

    Walking back we passed an estate agent window and I do like to stop and dream. I was surprised to see Inyathi for sale. It was priced around UK£105K and may still be on sale if you're looking for a career change!

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    20th May

    At breakfast the owners confirm that they are selling up but that because there is only 5 months left on the lease it's been on the market 3 months already. We pack, pay and move on towards Storms River via the old R102 road. This involves hairpin bends through a spectacular jungle environment and is a lovely drive. We check in to our lovely room at the Storms River Guest Lodge and then walk down to bring forward the time of our Tree Tops tour. That done we enjoy a snack lunch next door (included in the price, for some reason). It's basic fare ? hotdogs, burgers or toasted sandwiches with chips and cheap soft drinks ? but fills a space. Then we are kitted up by the specialists and drive to the starting point.

    First are 2 nursery slides ? supposedly easier than the others but still terrifying to someone who is so scared of heights she won't stand on a chair! Stepping off the platform is the hardest but I find the slide itself and the landings OK. What's also scary is the braking technique ? we are wearing heavy duty gloves with thicker pads in the palms and simply pull down on the cable to slow ourselves down.

    We are sharing our tour with just one other couple so I don't have time between slides for the nerves to escalate. The setting is beautiful and the platforms between slides offer an incredible view. Though our guides don't tell us much about what we're seeing it is interesting to hear one of them tell us about his involvement in building the attraction and the environmentally friendly methods used.

    One one of the earlier slides I manage to misplace my breaking hand which means I'm pulling down to break with a part of my hand not protected by the extra padding. It makes my hand burn for the rest of the tour. One slide is billed as particularly steep and fast. Fellow guest Steve goes first and responds easily to Nico's instructions on when to start slowing down. Unfortunately my arms simply aren't strong enough to pull down hard enough and I am unable to brake sufficiently to avoid slamming into the tree trunk at the destination platform. It doesn't hurt ? I did slow down to an extent and my knees take the strain ? but it shocks the heck out of Nico and Steve and the platform vibrates. I have a feeling Pete has captured the entire thing on video.

    He teases me mercilessly when I take the camcorder to film him doing a slide and he realised afterwards that I turned it on it's side. As a photographer I'm used to thinking about whether portrait or landscape orientation will work best for the scene but have to laugh when he asks if we'll have to turn the TV on it's side to watch that bit of the video!

    After the last slide there's a steep walk back to the waiting car and although it's not very far I do find it hard going. We're back at the centre by 2 pm as our group consisted of only 4 instead of the maximum of 8 guests and was able to proceed more quickly. I kind of wish we'd realised and lingered longer on the platforms to admire the views.

    The costs is 390 per adult plus tip at your discretion.

    We revive our energies at the Café Bacchus in the hotel next door where we have hysterics over the footage, especially my rotated bit. Our strawberry milkshakes are jolly nice and we also have a potato wedges starter and a calamari starter. It's spoiled a little by the bill being wrong. This doesn't worry me too much as I picked up the mistake but I am annoyed to be kept waiting over 20 minutes while they resolve it. They are not busy ? there is only one other table of 3 guests.

    We spend the rest of the afternoon at Storms River Mouth inside the Tsitsikamma Forest National Park. Entrance is 40 Rand each. The camp is in a stunning coastal location and all chalets have marvellous views as well as large braai areas for outdoor meals. We take a lovely walk down onto the sand and around the area but decide not to make the climb up to the rope bridge further inland.

    There is a large sunbird population here and we're able to get incredibly close to one little bird as it feeds on nectar in an orange flower. We're so close for so long that we're able to confidently identify it as a Greater Double Collared Sunbird by looking at the shape of it's body and beak and the exact colour of it's belly.

    We stop in the shop for postcards and in the restaurant for a drink but decide to head back to the village for dinner which we take at the nearby Armagh guest house. The accommodation is overpriced to our mind but the food is much more reasonable. We have a beautifullly spiced butternut squash soup. Then I have a really good lamb curry (and I am pretty demanding given how wonderfully my mum cooks lamb curry). Pete has a local chicken pie, apparently a speciality originating in District Six. With 2 beers and a soft drink the bill is only 182 Rand.

    After a lovely hot shower I write my diary and we enjoy a very comfortable night's sleep.

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    21 May

    The Storms River Guest Lodge has really good strong showers. How wonderful! And their breakfast is also wonderful ? a buffet of cereals, stewed and fresh fruits, juices etc and then a hot breakfast cooked to order. Ken is originally from the UK and he's sourced good, traditional British bangers instead of the local sausages, which, though very nice, don't hit the spot for Brits as much as a good banger!

    We pay and leave by 8.30 so that we can get to Addo as early as possible. We stop at a Pick and Pay shortly before the N10 turnoff to buy groceries and get some cash from an ATM as we don't know how readily either will be available inside the park.

    We arrive at 11.45 and check in at reception. Although we can't get into our chalet yet it's good to arrive early since the night's accommodation and conservation fee entitles you to spend the entire day of entry and of departure inside the park.

    We enter the park proper and decide to drive the lower loop. I'm being lazy in not getting my map of Addo out to check what it's called. Immediately we enter we see a group of 3 kudu (2 females and a male) right by the road. Given how rare it was to see these animals when we visited Botswana in 2001 we are duly impressed to get such a wonderful view. I start chanting about kudu kudos until Pete begs me to shut up!

    Having noticed the signs informing us that dung beetles are endangered and hence a protected species we peer at the road to make sure we don't run any over and see a lovely big tok tokkie beetle pootling along. In short order we find a red hartebeest, huge groups of ostriches, a yellow mongoose, a warthog family and various birds including a heron and some flycatchers. I'm searching earnestly for elephants and Pete nearly dies laughing as I see a flock of ostrich and say "ostrich, ostrich, ostrich? ELEPHANT? oh, no, it's just more ostriches". He can't quite understand how I could confuse two ostriches for an elephant, even a little one, and frankly, I'm not sure how that happened either. Still, it becomes a common mantra throughout the rest of the trip.

    And all that in less than an hour as we return to reception at 12.50 for our keys to chalet 19. It's a semi detached chalet and is absolutely huge. Inside we have twin beds made up as a double at one end of a large open lounge that has a sofa bed at the other side and a huge area in between. The open kitchen is pretty good and the bathroom is perfectly fine too. Outside we have our own shaded verandah plus a metal braai on the grass. We don't use ours though as it's foolishly positioned directly under a low thorn tree. They need to either trim back the tree or move the braai.

    After an easy lunch of sandwiches made in our lovely kitchen and crisps we have a bit of a rest before returning to the main gate at 2 pm to collect Headman, the Eyethu guide we booked at Selwyn's recommendation. We had called him on his mobile number a couple of days back to arrange the date and time. I'm confused as he says the fee is only 50 Rand for two hours and I was expecting it to be 100 but he's insistent that it's only 50. He hops into the car and off we go.

    At first we don't see much but it's interesting to talk with Headman about his history and how he came to be a guide. He is very enthusiastic and hopes to become a full guide working for the park itself in the future. We see the usual ostrich, warthogs, kudu and birds. (We quickly realise that, in this park, kudu are very abundant indeed). Headman tells us of a xhosa saying: He who kills the wagtail bird will find every dish in his home broken.

    Suddenly we come across a black backed jackal right by the road. I do love these animals and this one is in fine condition. Just then we spot an elephant off to one side and move forward a little. We spot 3 more and can see they are all headed in the same direction. Headman foresees that they will cross the road ahead and instructs us to continue along the road and around a corner. Just after we stop the lead elephant approaches and crosses the road infront of us and we grin in delight as a huge herd follows it across. After the final elephant has crossed we continue around the next corner to get a better view of the entire herd at a waterhole by the road. The elephants approach the water, drink deeply, caress each other with their trunks and demonstrate how much they are enjoying the experience. Youngsters race between the legs of adults, almost tripping them in their exhuberance. We watch one youngster clamber up his sibling and another reach up his trunk to an adult such that his entire pink mouth is visible to us. As a couple of adults move on we laugh as one youngster races after them whilst a stream of urine arcs out behind him!

    Our only negative thought is towards fellow visitors who get out of their car to take better pictures. We approach them in our car so that Headman can instruct them to get into their own but it's clear they were aware of the rules. We can't reach another lady who also opens her car door and gets out to take better pictures. At least she stays immediately by the door.

    When we finally leave we are as startled as the kudu that leaps across the road infront of us, tail raised in fear to show the fluffy white underside. As we continue we see another kudu, this time a large adult male. Another hartebeest feeding on some nearby grass and then we come across an incredible fight between a yellow mongoose and a grey mongoose. They race across the ground, stopping intermittently to attach each other ferociously. Headman reveals he has never seen this before either.

    More hartes, kudu and lots of birds. We come across a car stopped in the road that points at the road ahead and we see a huge bull elephant feeding on an acacia bush at the roadside. The couple in the car look petrified but are a long distance from the elephant and Headman says we can approach further without entering his comfort zone. We do that and enjoy watching him for a while but eventually turn around when it's clear he's not moving for a while and we are approaching our 4pm end time. We drive back to the main gate. Headman goes off duty after our session and is off home to Paterson for the weekend. I'm sure we've been undercharged for his services (though I can only guess that the Eyethu guides decided to drop prices for the winter season) so I tip him another 50 and wish him a happy weekend. All in all it seems a ridiculously low price for the services of a guide within one's own car.

    We pause for a few supplies in the camp shop (though we're pleased we did our main grocery shopping in a supermarket outside the park since choice is limited and prices higher). After chilling for a while we light the braai (using the one next door since we can see that chalet is empty) but give up when it still isn't hot enough to cook on after quite some time. We bought easy cook items such as dried pasta and a packet cheese sauce and some meat which we grill. Despite having loved every minute of our wonderful eating experiences in the cape region we enjoy our meal and retire tired and happy.

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    22 May

    Get up and ready early enough to leave the chalet by 6.30 and are the 5th car into the reserve. Nice and peaceful though it wasn't exactly crowded yesterday it certainly wasn't empty either.

    Head for the Hapoor waterhole as the sky gradually lightens. Spot a few harte and kudu on the way. We get there at 7 but there's little happening however I'm glad we wait for a few minutes as we witness two black backed jackals trotting around the water. One has a large brown bird in it's jaw and the other races towards it before they run off into the bush together.

    After a while we head to the nearby fenced hide area where you can get out, climb over a permanent stairway and down inside the fenced area inside which toilets are located. It's also a hide looking out on another waterhole but it's absolutely devoid of any visible life.

    After we leave we see some crowned plovers by the waterhole, some ostriches nearby and then spot the jackal couple again, this time right where we saw the single one yesterday so assume he was one of this pair.

    On the way to Janwai pan we see a large male kudu but little else for a while though we spend some time checking out spoor and using our little book to identify them. Eventually we come across a group of red hartebeest grazing and we stop the car to watch. Gradually they move towards us following a line of tasty grass, no doubt.

    We head for the Zuurkop lookout point which affords a lovely view out over the park. We're permitted to get out and it's quiet enough that I risk a pee in the bushes in the knowledge that no one is anywhere nearby. As we leave we spot and identify a rock kestrel. We're definitely enjoying identifying sightings ourselves though, with birds, we're quite slow as we don't yet know which section to narrow the search down to and have to flick through a whole lot of pages each time.

    We return to the camp to enjoy a fairly average cooked breakfast in the camp restaurant, grab some chocolate and fruit juice from the camp shop and some sunblock from the chalet for Pete and then we're back out in the park.

    We see the usual on our way to a more open grassland area where we come across a pair of secretary birds and a large group of about 10 warthogs. Never seen that large a group before. We also spy a yellow mongoose sitting upright on a nearby ridge. We stop to watch the antics of some turquoise arsed vervet monkeys just by the road. They peer at us from their sober black faces before the adults turn back to feeding and the young ones resume their chases in and out of the bushes.

    Up by Carol's Rest we come across lots of red hartebeest, a couple of zebra, a really large group of ostrich and more kudu, warthog and herons.

    We eventually head back to the chalet passing a lone male bull elephant off to one side. There are already a few cars and as he's not half as close as the group we saw yesterday we continue on.

    I fall fast asleep when back at the chalet (my fault for staying up late reading last night) and Pete enjoys a long soak in the bath. We both love having bathrooms with tubs as well as showers.

    On waking we grab a snack and head back into the park. We laugh at an ostrich in a water pan. He thinks he's a flamingo, someone really ought to let him know? Near Mbabela we come across guineau fowl and zebra but sightings are sparce in this area. We spot the same group of re hartebeest again near Janwai pan and head to Rooidam. A loud group of visitors arrive and I just can't stand the noise they are making (just talking to each other within their one vehicle) so we leave and move to Gwarriedam where we spot some egyptian geese. We wait as the sun sets and spot some kudu in the bushes at the far side but they don't come down to the water and we have to leave to exit the park on time. At another waterhole on the way to camp we pause and watch a warthog family race to the water and kneel at the edge to quench their thirst in the fading light.

    Back at the chalet we relax, pack, cook, eat and shower before getting an early night.

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    Kavey,

    Thanks for the continuing saga. I love the description of the young elephants playing, it brings back memories of our first and still most memorable elephant siting at the waterhole at the Mountain Lodge in Kenya - we watched them for 3 hours, including 4 youngsters playing football with a small log!

    Also I confess, I too have mistaken ostriches for elephants - only a few months ago at Savute.

    Please keep going - we're all still reading and eagerly awaiting the next instalment.:)

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    23rd May

    We're both awake and up before the alarm goes off at 6 and quickly get ready and are dropping our keys off with the security guard at the main gate by 6.30. Reception doesn't open this early but this is quicker anyway so suits us fine.

    We arrive at the Port Elizabeth airport by 7.30 am. It's really in the heart of a residential area ? if it weren't so well signposted I'd be convinced we were lost. Returning the car takes next to no time, I pause only long enough to ensure that charges are as expected.

    We're a bit worried that the coolbox we're now carrying (with wine etc in it) might be an issue as it takes our overall luggage to 50 kg but everything is fine and we're so early we even get emergency exit aisle seats.

    We enjoy a cooked breakfast at the "house of coffees" which has a range of different hot breakfast options and I catch up on the diary for a while.

    On arrival at Durban we head to collect our next car, a Toyota condor and have to insist that existing damage is inspected and noted on our contract. The woman dealing with us seems to be the branch manager and eventually indulges us, though she says it's not an issue. The car has a lot of miles on the clock for a rental and is probably not far off being replaced but I still don't want to take any chances.

    Although one circles and initials the various prices for additional insurance etc the overall is confusing so I also have the manager put the total price of the rental at the bottom. This is the price that we will buy minus any charge for petrol if the tank is not full or for damage should we cause any.

    We take the car and head straight out of Durban to Ballito and to the shopping mall where we've arranged to meet Kim. Kim is an occasional Fodorite poster and had kindly offered for us to stay a couple of nights at her place during our trip. Changes in our itinerary mean we're only taking her up on it for one night but I'm looking forward to it. Pete, as always, is bemused at my somewhat global internet friendship thing.

    We enjoy lunch at a lovely portuguese restaurant and relax as we realise Kim is as nice as she'd seemed to me in emails and she as she realises she hasn't invited complete head cases into her home.

    We decide to have a lazy afternoon and just stop in a supermarket by the restaurant for supplies for an easy meal for the evening and for our next few days within game reserves. We'll be self-catering.

    We also pause in an art gallery which has some of the Nelson Mandela prints that were on sale at the Robben Island Gateway gallery. Although the smaller size prints (including the one we purchased) remain the same the prices for the larger prints have just been raised significantly. We chose the piece because we really liked it but at £300uk it was still our most expensive art purchase to date and it's gratifying to know it?s likely to be a good investment.

    On the way home to her flat Kim leads us to the building site for her new home. It's incredible! We clamber around the shell ? most of the building is done though the stair case remains to be fitted and the glazing too. Kim also explains her plans for the kitchen and so on. It has a wonderful view too and we can see just why she's so excited about moving here. It's not an inexpensive project but you still get a heck of a lot more for your money in South Africa than you do in the UK and even in the States.

    At Kim's we really just relax. We swap some books, we read, we chat. We surf the internet and Kim shows us some of her photos. It's really nice to have a lazy house day and it's great that we can feel so welcome and so at home in the house of someone we just met.

    Dinner is some pesto pasta and just perfect.

    24th May

    Kim invites us to visit her hospital department but having discussed in some detail the kinds of cases she deals with on a daily basis we decide that we're not emotionally prepared for such a visit today. She is faced with cruelty and tragedy every single day. That's emotionally draining and we're full of admiration and respect for the work Kim does.

    We say our goodbyes and all 3 of us head up the N2 towards Mtubatuba. Kim veers off en route to her workplace. Tolls are not cheap along this stretch but the road is in very good condition.

    We turn off towards the main Imfolozi Park entrance and arrive just before 10 am. We sign in, buy a map booklet which covers all the KZN parks and head for Mpila.

    We encounter baboons, warthogs, zebras, impalas and a terrapin sunning on a rock within a river that we cross (via a low concrete ford).

    We can't check into our tent at 10.30 so we decide to take a short drive around the park for a couple of hours until we can.

    Suddenly I spot something. I'm cautious and don't want to get my hopes up but we grab the binoculars and it's true. There's a large white rhino lying on his side under the shade of a young thorn tree. He stays so still that for a moment we wonder if he's alive but then he flicks an ear to fend off an insect and we sigh with relief. This is thrilling. He's perhaps 30-40 metres away from us! His ears continue to twitch and we hold our breaths as he moves more significantly but all he does is roll over onto his other side and relax again.

    After a while we leave him behind and continue our drive. The maps are clear and each junction is marked with a large stone structure with a unique number on it also shown in the map. It's impossible to get lost.

    We pause again in the shade of a leafy glade to watch a group of impala that are right next to the road. A troop of vervet monkeys also plays in the trees, their occasional mad chases and raucous shrieks contrasting with the docile grazing of the impalas.

    Moving on we come across impalas in the road (a very common occurrence in this park), a buffalo sitting on a distant sand bank that we can see from our elevated position and some wildebeest also on the road. Then a huge single giraffe stops at the roadside just at the same time we do. We look at each other and he pauses in what seems like a deliberate pause for the camera.

    After finishing the loop we head back towards Mpila pausing to visit the waterpan. We see warthog, impala, kudu and zebra here. We don't stop too long but decide to come by again later. Returning to the camp we again pass the same rhino and he hasn't moved an inch in the two hours since we last saw him. Suddenly a locust lands on our car bonnet and we watch him for a moment before he flies away again. We are also amazed by the abundance of butterflies of many different sizes and colours.

    We arrive at Mpila a little after 1 and head to our tent, number 23 to unpack. Ours is a tent for 2 but is positioned between two tents for 4 which tend to be noisier as they are taken by families of groups of friends.

    The accommodation is good. We chose the safari tents over the chalets and are very pleased. The tents are similar in design to those used by the expensive private lodges such as Wilderness Safaris (whom we have travelled with previously) although slightly more worn, perhaps. In addition the decking leads out from the tent into a second area which houses an open sided kitchen. This kitchen is perfectly adequate for simple self-catering and there is, of course, a metal braai (barbeque) on the ground near the deck.

    There is no catering at all at Mpila (and the shop here has the smallest selection of groceries of any camp shops we later visit) so we decide to head back towards the entrance to Centenary Lodge for lunch.

    We see buffalo, kudu, zebra and a lizard that we spot on getting out of the car. The little takeaway is open between 10 and 4 and sells snacks and drinks for very reasonable prices. Pete has a toasted sandwich and chips and I have a burger. We decide not to take the tour of the rhino boma though they do have several in there at the moment from a recent capture exercise. They breed so well here that the park captures and sells some to other parks and breeding projects around the world.

    After lunch we browse the craft market also at the lodge before returning back to camp. We decide to take the afternoon off and read, sleep and relax before an early dinner. Unfortunately it's 5.30 when we realise that we don't have any matches. The shop and camp reception is long closed, it's getting dark and we quickly decide to ask a neighbour for help. Grabbing torches and looking carefully around us we walk to their tent and are lucky that they spare not just a match or two but a whole box. Very nice South African family with young kids.

    After our simple meal of frankfurters in buns we relax for a bit before a really early night in very comfortable beds.


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    25th May

    After a nice hot shower fresh bacon sarnies make a good start to the day even better. But we then discover that the wooden kitchen cupboard in which we were instructed to look food has been visited by rodents who have chewed our bread and even our dried pasta. The bread is thrown away but we decide the pasta, since it will be boiled and doesn't look very chewed, should be fine. We decide to ignore the camp's advice and move our food into our tent, we do put it into the sturdy wooden wardrobe.

    Heading off for another drive at around 9 am we enjoy some more great sightings.

    Early on we come across what we think is the same rhino we saw yesterday sitting down again under a tree less than 20 meters away from his favoured spot from yesterday.

    Also during the morning we come across wildebeest, impala (many, many times and usually on the road infront of us), female nyala, another very large male giraffe who not only poses for us as his friend did yesterday but actually walks a few steps forward before pausing which brings his legs out from behind the bushes and makes for a better picture, herds of zebra including youngsters, warthogs, birds of many different kinds, which we slowly identify using our bird book.

    Keen but wholly inexperienced birders we can't yet even flick to the right segment of the book but have to page through more than half of it each time. But the feeling of satisfaction when we make a firm diagnosis and even when we make a tentative one is gratifying.

    We stop at a hide and see several rock terrapins sunbathing on rocks and tree stumps jutting out of the water. There are a couple of birds in a nearby tree that we don't identify but we know they arent the weavers that created the many individual nests hanging from the tree like christmas decorations. One has fallen from the tree and sits in the shallow water beneath the tree.

    A sudden flash of colour turns out to be a malachite kingfisher and we watch it dart down into the water and back to the branch several times.

    Leaving the hide for more driving we encounter a buffalo herd quite close to the road that includes some babies, a troop of vervet monkeys, more impala, a large group of waterbuck with the white toilet seat mark on their backsides, zebra, nyala females and a large male, kudu, zebra.

    We take one loop marked for 4x4s but eventually turn back. We crossed two rivers with crumbling fords but when we began to slide sideways down a hilly gravel incline Pete reversed very slowly and carefully down it before turning around and heading back. We continued on the main road and decided to view the loop from the other direction but also turned back when we reached the incline area from the other side. On exiting back onto the main road this time we came across another vehicle who asked us about the road. We reassured them that their landrover wouldn't have any problems at all but they looked slightly green and skipped the loop completely.

    Our next encounters include impala, zebra, mating warthogs followed by a youngster with prominent white hair fake tusks and some wildebeest sleeping beneath a tree.

    At 1.45 we stop at the side of the road for a picnic inside the car from our wonderful coolbox. Whilst eating we watch mongoose, zebra, warthogs, impala (including more males than we usually see) and kudu.

    Continuing on we are able to identify a beautiful pair of glossy ibis. We reach the viewpoint at the end and turn back towards Mpila. As we pass a waterhole surrounded by one of the largest groups of zebra we have encountered we spot a single hamakop that seems to be settling into a nest on the ground, perhaps to sleep already. A few minutes later we spot a secretary bird striding along, clearly not entertaining thoughts of sleeping just yet.

    Wildebeest race across an open area to one side of us and we watch a large male rounding up others to make sure they move in the right direction.

    We spot more of the same animals as we return to camp for another early meal. Pete goes back to the kitchen to make coffee and is momentarily very startled by the loud noises of a warthog foraging in the grass right by the decking. Another early night.

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    Thanks, Kavey, for the review. I loved our visit together and wished you could have spent more time. I have moved into my new house with 2 unused bedrooms. All fodorites passing by are welcomed! (Again, as long as they are not lunatics)

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    26th May

    After lovely hot, strong showers and delicious bacon sarnies we pack and set off early to spend the entire day driving through Hluhluwe towards our overnight stop in Ubizane.

    Crossing one of the rivers we spot a woolly necked stork which we're proud to identify ourselves with reference to our bird guide. We continue through Imfolozi into Hluhluwe spotting lots of animals such as vervets, impalas, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest.

    We are surprised at how different the landscape is in Hluhluwe to that in Imfolozi. I think it's definitely worth driving through both.

    At around 10 am we arrive at viewpoint 24. Continuing on we come to a stop behind another car paused between map points 4 and 5. There are two white rhinos in the brush over to our left. The other car kindly moves a little to give us a better view - I think they have been here some time already - and we watch the rhinos as they sit in the shade for a while. Suddenly they get up and start eating. We reverse to keep them in view as they move just a couple of paces and then reverse quite a distance to find them again after they race off parallel to the road. The other car left some time ago. After a while they race off again into deeper bush and we finally move on, exhilarated.

    Only a short distance further, at point 5, we take the turn that leads us to another viewpoint. We pass the car we saw earlier - stopped to look at some zebra and impala obscured behind some trees - followed by a herd of wildebeest huddled together in the shade of a small tree which they are sharing with a family of warthogs.

    Soon after that we encounter a huge mixed-sex group of impalas and pause to watch and listen - Mature males chase younger males who zig-zag and leap frantically around the terrain barking out alarm calls as they go. One or two pairs of pursuer and victim race across the track just infront of us amazing us with their speed, agility and grace.

    We arrive at the lookout at about 11 am and get out of the car, as permitted, though we stay very close to the car and leave doors open. Within a few minutes I am delighted to spot another rhino. We watch for a while. When the other car arrive I point him out but they don't seem to be too interested. Instead one starts staring in another direction and we notice his attempts to point something out to his friends, none of whom seem to be able to see anything. He comes over to us and says he's sure he spotted a lion in the grass but after several minutes of careful scanning we don't spot anything and conclude that he was either mistaken or that the lion moved quietly out of our sight.

    We head back towards point 5 and just after passing it we spot more rhinos. This time it's a mother and young calf walking serenely along the hillside to our left. I am absolutely thrilled and we watch them for quite some time, no other cars in sight, before finally moving on.

    Literally yards agead we come across one more lone rhino to our right. A group of impala near him are suddenly spooked by something and bounce away at top speed but we stay put to watch the rhino. Six rhinos one after the other - I am practically beside myself with excitement. As we move on and for much of the remaining day a chant of "six rhino, six rhino, la la la la" bursts out of me at random intervals.

    We continue our drive coming across a crocodile in a river, various birds, some of which we recognise, some which we identify with the aid of our book and some which we enjoy without ascertaining their identities.

    Sometime before our arrival at Hilltop we see the camp from a distance and admire it's fantastic position perched on a hill top which we are sure will afford wonderful views over the park. The prices for Hilltop self-catering accommodation are much too high compared with other government rest camp accommodation or we would have booked to stay here for the night. Instead we've booked one night's accomomdation in a self-catering chalet in Ubizane, just outside the park.

    We arrive at Hilltop a little after midday having paused often to admire the views ourselves. The restaurant at Hilltop is housed in a spacious and airy building with huge windows onto the views. It's coolness is welcome.

    Happiness, our waitress, takes our order for a shared roquefort salad, bush burger and fries for Pete and a venison hotpot for me. She returns to let us know that she can't find any vanilla ice-cream for the banana/ strawberry shakes we also ordered but offers to make them with blueberry ice-cream instead. When she brings them she worries that they will taste very strange but we find them delicious. She also explains that the burger and hotpot are both made from nyala today. We both enjoy our meals and the views while we eat. Before leaving we talk to Happiness about our destination for the night, Ubizane. She used to work there only a year or two ago and asks us to pass on her regards to her ex-colleagues there, which we promise to do.

    After filling up with petrol we continue our journey through the park, admiring a handsome fish eagle, the strangely translucent gooseberry-like plants and a buffalo who scares us half to death by racing out into the road only a foot or two infront of our bonnet. After staring at us for a few moments, he disappears off into the thick bush at the side of the road. We are very glad we're not only following the speed limit but proceeding more slowly than it dictates. We have seen a few visitors blatantly disregarding the limit and wonder how they would fare in such an encounter. The thought of what might happen to the animal involved makes me very cross.

    Some of the roads in the park are tarmac but many are gravelly dirt roads. The map makes clear which ones are open to visitors and also lets you know if any are suitable only for travellers in 4 wheel drive vehicles. We decide to follow on such road (between map points 19 - 20) in the hope that it will have seen less traffic and provide more wildlife opportunities than the main road.

    A short distance along the road we spot an elephant in the bushes close to the side of the road on our right. Soon we realise that he's part of a group. Because they are so close to the road we move forward a little to put some distance between us. On entering the parks the staff were at pains to ask visitors to keep their distance from elephants in particular as they have many quite aggressive elephants in the park. Just after we move forward we see the elephants move out from the bushes and onto the road where we were parked. There are many of them and they stay there, feeding on roadside vegetation.

    Just then we see another elephant to our right, also close to the road. She also starts to move out towards the road. We notice she has a small baby with her and I suggest that we move forward again since I have learned from all the documentaries how aggressive mothers with young can be.

    Having moved forward we watch through our back window as the mother and baby both exit onto the road. Further behind them we can still see the other elephants feeding. It becomes evident that the mother is not feeling disturbed by our presence as she starts to gather up dust and throw it all over herself. The baby isn't able to gather and throw dust but plays with the dirt and fallen vegetation with it's tiny trunk.

    As we watch mother and baby we notice a huge bull elephant leave the group at the back and walk slowly towards the mother and baby. When he reaches them he doesn't stop but continues along the road towards us. We're quite a few feet ahead but decide to leave and turn forward only to see that other elephants have come out of the bushes onto the road several feet ahead of us. They aren't paying us any attention but there is absolutely no way we can pass them. I urgently ask Pete to pull our car to the side of the single-lane road as tight to the bushes on our left as he can and to turn the engine off.

    We sit in silence with our heads facing forward. We watch the huge elephant approach us in the mirrors. I whisper at Pete not to breathe and then suddenly he's parallel with us. He stops right by the car. Neither of us are breathing. The car is a big Toyota Condor yet it is dwarfed by the bull. We feel something tap the roof of the car and realise he's tapping us with his trunk. He turns to face the side of our car and lowers his head to peer in through the windows at us. We see him through the corners of our eyes, not daring to turn our heads and look directly at him. He isn't showing any signs of aggression yet we know he could flip us over with no effort at all just out of curiousity, playfulness or sudden pique. The moment seems to last forever.

    Then he drops his trunk back down infront of him and turns to face the road ahead of us. He slowly starts to walk again, moving on towards the elephants infront of us. We start breathing again. After he's moved a few feet on I silently grab my camera from the back seat and take a shot of his departing backside.

    After a few minutes he reaches the elephants in front and joins them. The group continues along the road for a distance before eventually turning off the road and heading into the bush at a right angle. Mother and baby elephant are still in the road behind us as are the group behind them.

    We pause to let our heart beats slow a little more before turning on the ignition and continuing along the road. Shortly we come to a very steep hill and the adrenaline from our recent encounter spurs Pete to step on the gas sufficiently to take us to the top without sliding backwards. We are at Magangasi viewpoint, ontop of a hill with no bushes to hide the views around us and take a moment to get out of the car and breathe some fresh air now the elephants have been left behind.

    After this experience we are happy that the rest of our time in Hluhluwe passes without incident and we continue towards the Hluhluwe exit. Ubizane is only a few miles (<10 minutes) outside of the exit, on the road towards Hluhluwe town and we arrive at Ubizane Zululand Safari Lodge at 3.45 pm.

    We are very pleasantly surprised at our accommodation, especially given the low price we paid. The self-catering rondavel is absolutely huge. The bedroom is also huge and has a double bed, twin bunk beds and a table and two chairs without feeling crowded. The straw thatch ceiling is high above us and the windows are very tall. The bathroom is also large, well designed and offers a wonderful deep tub (perfect for a long soak and read) as well as a separate shower cubicle. The kitchen is small but well equipped, including a microwave. The rondavel also incorporates an outside eating area and a metal braai on the grass nearby. We relax for the rest of the afternoon.

    Instead of self-catering we opt to eat at the buffet in the Zululand Tree Lodge (a few minutes drive further into the reserve) and have a very nice meal. The selection is good and so is the service. The restaurant area is open on one side and overlooks a fire pit and a wooden area. The female staff provide us with lively singing entertainment by the fire and we watch them as we eat. We also pass on Happiness' message which is passed around the group, several of whom smile and talk further amongst themselves.

    We sleep well in our lovely rondavel.

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    27 May

    On waking we splash out on the buffet breakfast rather than self-catering. And then head for St Lucia. Doesn't take long to get there and we arrive at our bed and breakfast, Avalone, at 10.45 am. Monica, the hostess/ manager, is very welcoming indeed and we enjoy a coffee with her on the patio area.

    We are shown to our room, on the ground floor. It's a spacious room with very high ceilings and a window out onto a quiet corner of the garden. The bathroom has a large, deep tub and a separate shower. The room is decorated comfortably and thoughtfully equipped with water, fridge, tea and coffee making facilities etc.

    St Lucia is a small town so we are pleased with the location of Avalone. It's at the edge of town and the garden backs onto a nature reserve, yet it's only a few minutes walk into town. After settling in we head into town - it's almost too hot to walk (though I'm a weed and most people would probably love the hot weather) and stop for lunch at the Quail in Ale. I just have a starter portion of calamari and Pete has an omelette. Nothing amazing but perfectly acceptable and reasonably priced.

    We check out a few restaurants for tonight and then pause in the Spar to pick up a few things. As I'm practically fainting from the heat my kind husband offers to walk back to get the car and leaves me waiting in the supermarket. I ask the manager if I can use a chair near the desk she's sitting at and she gestures me to join her. And then we chat happily for the next 20+ minutes. She came here on holiday from Cyprus many, many years ago and met her husband and they have been here ever since. She does go back to Cyprus on holiday and seemed a little wistful about moving back there but all of their sons have grown up here and are very much South African. Infact I meet one of her sons who is currently working with her between studies and he's certainly a handsome fellow. He tells me a little about his studies and plans for the future before Pete arrives.

    We drive to a local beach but it's too windy and we quickly cut short our walk. At 3 pm we head for the dock having bought tickets for an estuary cruise via Monica. Our boat is called the Advantage and our skipper and guide is Steve.

    The excursion was excellent. Despite clearly having done the trip a thousand times Steve was enthusiastic, informative and funny and had eyesight any hawk would be proud of.

    We spotted a baby crocodile with a large bird clutched in it's jaw. The bird was almost as big as the crocodile and it was clear that it was struggling to swim to the shore without dropping it's prize. It did let go a couple of times, quickly grabbing the bird again, before managing to get onto the bank. Meanwhile a few of us worked on identifying the bird using guide books. The two of us who had concentrated most on noting down things such as colour of feathers, legs etc, concluded that it was a rare finfoot duck. Steve confirmed that these were seen in the area and that it was a definitely possibility.

    We came across a huge lone crocodile sunning on a bank. Steve manoeuvred the flat bottomed boat really close to it, knowing how sluggish the creatures are at this time of year. He reminded everyone that they can move very fast and come high out of the water when they are in normal hunting mode. Later in the cruise we saw a lot more really large crocodiles sunning on a sandbank on an island in the centre of the estuary.

    Birding was interesting - we saw a lot of fish eagles, getting unexpectedly close to one bird without it taking flight from the branch it perched upon. We also saw a pied kingfisher and a lone goliath heron, all the while listening to Steve's excellent narrative. He also told us about the history of the area - we learned about the local community, about the conservation efforts, about the indigenous flora and threats to it from imported flora.

    But my very favourite thing was the sheer number of hippos we encountered at very close quarters. Many were out of the water and there were a number of small youngsters of various ages. On the return leg of our journey we watched one group slowly hawl themselves up and move back into the water. Watching the youngsters splash back in was captivating. We also saw a lone hippo called Tyson and I recall Steve explaining that he'd taken the ear off another male hippo in a fight some time back.

    I don't recall the price of the boat trip, though I know it wasn't expensive. Drinks sold on the boat were also very reasonably priced. I'd certainly recommend it and would suggest trying to find out which boat Steve is captaining if you can.

    We pop back home for a short time before taking the car and heading to Quarterdeck restaurant in town. I have a wonderful and generous seafood crepe followed by an absolutely delicious rack of ribs. Pete has loaded potato skins followed by a cajun chicken crepe main dish. We shared a chocolate mousse for dessert. With a beer, a soft drink and a capuccino the bill came to 203 Rand + tip.

    On getting home we sat with Monica infront of the TV and really relaxed. Called my parents and my sister back home before finally retiring to a very good night's sleep indeed.

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    29th May

    Breakfast is generous and includes fruit, juices and a cooked breakfast. We're the only guests and get on well with Monica and she spoils us by also preparing fresh, paper thin crepes which I enjoy with sugar and lemon juice. Mmmm!

    We head out of St Lucia in search of art and craft. The roadside stalls offer little of interest though we are fascinated by the freeform wooden "scupltures" created from polished upside-down tree roots. but we head to Monzi - a craft cooperative Monica had mentioned. There is an excellent selection of crafts and some food items too. As Monica was moving into a new flat on the premises (from a flat in a house just opposite) when we arrived yesterday we pick up an etched glass flower vase for a house-warming gift. I also choose some smaller items for myself and gifts included beaded christmas tree ornaments, clay and bead decorated coffee spoons and some hand made greetings cards.

    Then we head to Empangeni to meet Kim. She had kindly allowed us to do some laundry at her house when we stayed but we'd managed to leave a small bag of clothes behind. Going all the way back to Ballito would be a pain but Kim has kindly offered to meet us for lunch half way. We meet in the De Hof Cellar restaurant in the Protea Hotel and it's very nice to see Kim again. The menu is innovative and I enjoy my fillet steak with honey, chicken liver, pastrami and mushroom sauce. Pete has ostrich with a green pepper sauce and Kim goes for a steak with sour cream and avocado garnish. After lunch we take some photos in the hotel gardens, make sure Pete and I have the laundry and say our goodbyes a second time.

    Since we pass a Spar on the way home we pop in to buy dried groceries (pasta, ready to cook pasta sauces etc) for our stay in Ithala and then return to St Lucia. We pause at the fruit and craft market in town and also at the cashpoint opposite before returning to the lovely guest house mid-afternoon.

    Monica has some friends over and we stop to have tea and coffee with them. One of the ladies works for KZN Wildlife in one of their camps on the western side of the St Lucia lake and her parents and neice are visiting her from Johannesburg for a few days. It's nice to meet more friendly people and while away a little time chatting. These friends leave and we join Monica infront of the TV. I also sneak a peek (with Monica's permission) at the suite which is marvellous for those wanting to splash out a little more. The guest house is owned by a European couple and this is their bedroom suite when in town. It has a ante-room with desk, a spacious bedroom and two ensuite bathrooms!

    Two of her friends arrive a couple of hours later for dinner with us this evening. I agreed yesterday to cook an Indian meal for us and for Monica and two of her girlfriends if she would get the ingredients. Monica and one of her friends agree to chop onions for me and I finally set to work in the kitchen. No wooden spoons! After melting one black plastic spoon into the spice mix I am trying to cook in a large pan (and having to throw it out and start again) the things improve and I'm really pleased that I'm succeeding in creating stuff that tastes pretty close to how it should taste even though so many ingredients are not available. I create a marinade and set some chicken to marinade in that and also cook some tomatoey chicken curry.

    We enjoy some wine and chat and I put the tandoori chicken into the oven and the rice on the boil. We sit down for dinner fairly late at around 9 pm but everyone seems to really enjoy the meal. Monica and I thought I'd be cooking far too much but nearly all of it is eaten with just a tiny bit remaining that will serve Monica well as a light lunch tomorrow.

    One of her friends has been through a very tough time indeed lately and we're keen to take her mind off her troubles and cheer her up. A German couple are also staying at the guest house tonight and they return from their dinner out just after we finish eating. They join us at the dining table for wine and chat before we all call it a night and head to bed.


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    Sorry - missed a day:

    28th May

    After another delicious and filling breakfast we ready a picnic purchased yesterday and head for Cape Vidal. The entry is 35 Rand for the car plus another 20 Rand for each person in it which makes the total 75 Rand for the two of us.

    The ticket/ security guy at the gate also asks if we'd be willing to give his colleague a lift into the park? There aren't any official buses for workers so it's either a very long walk or hitch a lift from one of the infrequent visitors. We tell the man to hop in and learn that he works as a chef in the camp restaurant.

    As we drive into the park I'm surprised at the extensive logging we see ? I hadn't expected to see this within a protected park. But the most surprising thing we see is a pair of white rhino munching the grass in a field by the roadside. They are very close to the road so we stop to watch them for a while.

    Not long after dropping our hitcher off at the gateway to his working area we pick up 2 women, one of whom is carrying a baby on her back. The younger of the pair tells us she's visiting her boyfriend who works in the park. We drop them off at the staff residential area.

    Next we take a scenic loop off the main road and find ourselves driving through quiet, beautiful terrain. We come to a point where we are looking out over a small lake. The signs warn against swimming because of crocodiles but the waterbuck and birds around the lake seem relaxed.

    Finally we arrive at the beach and sit and walk and paddle there a while. I did change into my costume but although the water isn't so cold the wind is absolutely fierce and I would freeze on getting back out. Clearly this would be an idyllic spot in the right weather.

    We end up eating our picnic in the car because the wind would just dump half a tonne of sand into our food if we tried to eat outside. We try to visit the hide on the way back out of the park but, disappointingly, it's closed.

    We call it a day and head back to the house to relax for the rest of the afternoon. For dinner we visit the St Pizza Café wgere Pete has a medium Mexican pizza and I foolishly splash out on a Marmaid seafood platter. It's not far off 10 times more expensive than the pizza. I do enjoy it but the crayfish (which is what makes it so expensive) is tiny and dry. The prawns and calamari are delicious and the prawn only platter is much less expensive.

    To bed and another excellent night's sleep.

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    She's Baaackk!:D :D
    Thanks Kavey, for continuing with your trip report...

    Loved reading about the interesting encounter w/ that bull elephant. I can imagine the silence of you and Pete holding your breath and not stirring an inch while waiting for the big guy to move on.

    Looking forward to reading the rest...:)

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    30th May

    After another delicious breakfast of fruit, eggs and bacon and more delicious home-cooked crepes before we have to settle up and check out. Monica surprises me by kindly gifting me with an eggcup of hers - she knows that I collect them - which has a little zebra on it. Very sweet!

    We set off before 9 am along the N2 northwards towards our next destination - Ndumo. It's not long before I'm desperate for a toilet break and when I spot a large craft market on our left we pause there to use the facilities. I recall that there is a small charge to do so but don't remember how much. The craft market is excellent and has a wide choice. I restrict myself to buying only a few more beaded christmas tree ornaments before we set off on our way again.

    Not long after stopping for petrol at Mkhuze we are held up by road works. We end up waiting for about 15 minutes and enjoy watching the fruit sellers walk between cars. These ladies have their faces painted red to protect their skin from the strong sun and are wearing a curious mix of modern and traditional clothes and jewellery.

    After turning off the main road we enjoy spectacular views from the steep road up to Jonzini. Coming down on the other side the road takes us right across the dam itself. After this our route becomes more uncomfortable and we judder over some of the worst "road" we have ever driven. A dirt track would actually be better than this collection of uneven and jagged rocks that tests our suspension.

    When we arrive at the park we are instructed to leave our car in a parking area not far from the gate house and wait there for collection by Ndumu Wilderness Camp staff. This camp is our main splurge in South Africa and we're really excited to be back in the hands of Wilderness Safaris. Andy, one of the managers, collects us and we're thrilled when he informs us that we're the only guests in camp for both our two nights. Strangely the camp was full the previous night and is almost full the night following our departure. We're surprised when he tells us that some guests don't appreciate being on their own but as far as we're concerned we know we'll relish the personal attention.

    After freshening up with a welcome wet flannel we check in and fill in the requisite forms over a drink and are shown to our tent, a double, as requested. We are very touched to find a bottle of champagne in our room with a card from Andy and Shannon (the current duty managers, usually based at Rocktail bay). Our agent has passed on the information that the trip is a second honeymoon (though we'll hold the vow renewal ceremony at the end rather than the beginning of the trip) and they wish us well for our special trip.

    The bedroom forms one zipped room on the platform and the bathroom is another. You will need to exit the bathroom and cross a very small open area to the bathroom door. It unnerved me a touch but I didn't feel unsafe. Very nervous travellers might find it too daunting. We settle into our tent and enjoy the view until returning to the dining area for tea. We have agreed to take tea a little earlier than usual at 2.30 in order to get out on our afternoon game drive a little earlier.

    Our guide is James Tembe, a young man who grew up and lives in a town not far from Ndumo, in the direction of Tembe Park, nearby. Viewing starts slowly with sightings of a few birds but we're content as we enjoy birding in Africa and James is clearly very knowledgable and passionate about birds.

    He drives us to the western area of the park and we leave the landrover for a walk. As we walk he points out plants and trees, spoor, birds and even the glistening quartz stones in red, orange and yellow. After a while we see a white rhino with calf in the distance. After ensuring that we're aware of safety protocol and comfortable James leads us closer to the rhino. He is careful to ensure that we are always clearly visible to the rhino and this certainly seems to succeed in keeping the rhino mother calm. Closer and closer we get and Pete and I both start wondering just how close he will take us to these huge and powerful animals. We come to a stop about 30 yards from the rhinos and stop for some time to admire them. It's an absolutely thrilling encounter and certainly all the more exciting for being on foot.

    Eventually it's time to return to the landrover and head back towards camp. When we first met James before our drive he asked us what our special interests were. We assured him that we were interested in everything he could show us but mentioned too that we were particularly interested to see some of the birds for which Ndumo is famous as well as some of the smaller animals in the park. We knew we'd have our fill of lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, zebras, giraffes and more at other destinations on our itinerary.

    As we got to know him better during the drive I start to tease him by pretending to expect sightings of a whole list of increasingly unlikely sightings. Don't worry that I am stressing out a young guide - James is fully aware of the non-serious nature of the requests and laughs heartily at the mention of a pangolin with baby on it's back a la recent issue of Africa Geographic!

    Of course he gets his own back by delivering more than we expected in the way of small animals on our drive back to camp. As the sun lowers and darkness settles we spot a spring hare bounding along the road infront of us. James follows at a distance, highlighting the hare in his spotlight. We keep expecting it to dive into the grass to the side of the road but it continues hopping along infront of us until we reach a T-junction. The hare turns left which is also our designated route and we follow him for another minute or so before he finally bounces off into the grass to our left.

    Shortly after the hare James spots a bushbaby peering out from a tree. We get a good sight of it before moving on. We also come across a sight Pete and I haven't seen before - a warthog sleeping in a fallen tree crook. He wakes as we drive past and James explains that warthogs sometimes borrow the sleeping burrows of nocturnal animals who are out foraging whilst the warthogs sleep.

    A startled male nyala stops infront of us on the road. James kills the headlights and engine in order to give it time to figure out where it is and move slowly back into the bush.

    And then the sighting that excites me the most - a porcupine snuffling at the edge of the road. We get a really great look at the face, quills and even little feet. I mention to James at this point that I'd really like to take home a couple of fallen porcupine quills as a souvenir. I explain that I have seen these on sale but that they seem bizaarely expensive. He enthusiastically agrees to keep an eye out during our stay.

    We return to camp elated and take a few moments to freshen up before meeting for pre-dinner drinks by the fire. Dinner consists of soup, fresh baked bread, beef stroganoff with rice and a crème brulee without the sugar topping. We also bring the champagne along with us to the meal and share it with Andy, Shannon and James.

    After that wonderful meal and with the help of hot water bottles, we snuggle into bed and fall asleep listening to the sounds of Africa through the fabric of our tent walls.

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    Correction to passage on tents:

    The bedroom forms one zipped room on the platform and the bathroom is another. You will need to exit the bedroom via a zipped tent flap and cross a very small open area to the bathroom door.

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    You're welcome.

    A short bit I missed from last day's report:

    As we are looking at a green backed dove James tells us about the sad little song that is said to be a translation of the bird's cries. "My father is dead. My mother is dead. My family is dead. Now I am crying".

    James also tells us about the flora around us including a low bushy plant. The nickname given by his people to this plant is Mother-in-Law's Tongue because of the plant's sharp leaves!

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    Great travelogue, Kavey. Is there anyway you can start a new thread for your Botswana and Namibia legs -- this chain is getting very lengthy. I'll read it no matter what, but I think it would be easier on some computers if threads were shorter. Thanks for the terrific detail.

    Michael

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    Michael
    I'm not too keen on splitting the report across more than one post as the different segments tend to get separated, not to mention that it's easier for me having it one thread. And I didn't want to flood the board with Kavey threads! :D
    If you'd prefer me to email you when it's finished, just drop me an email.

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    31st May

    Having woken to visit our facilities at both 1 am and 5 am I am pleased to report that there are no scary critters waiting for me in that teeny area between bedroom and bathroom and I get through the night unscathed.

    We're woken at the ungodly hour of 5.30 by the frantic calls of a Heuglin's Robin which is clearly sitting a branch somewhere very close by. At 6.30 we get our proper wake up call and meet for tea/ coffee and a banana 15 minutes later.

    We leave camp by boat at 7 am. We spend the first hour and a half progressing slowly along the river stopping frequently to view the astounding variety of birds including jacanas striding across lily pads, little bee eaters huddled together on tall reeds bending with their weight, open billed storks, purple heron, a couple of huge goliath heron, purple gallinules holding water chestnuts in agile claws, lesser gallinules, black crakes, egyptian geese, common moorhens, African fish eagles and many more that I didn't manage to write down.

    The scenery itself is beautiful and James takes us by boat to see a waterfall which we later see from the other side by landrover. We also stop for a while in the middle of an open body of water and have a go at fishing. I'm really not a natural with casting a fishing line and pause to write notes in my diary whilst Pete and James fish. With the exception of a water snail which Pete is keen to have counted as a legitimate catch we catch nothing and start heading back towards camp. En route we see more birds, some crocodiles sunning on the banks and some hippos doing the same a little farther ahead.

    We enjoy breakfast at 10 am which consists of macaroni cheese, salads and breads plus a cooked breakfast. Having told Andy and Shannon about the "jungle juice" that some WS camps made for us in 2001 (during a wide-ranging discussion on all kinds of aspects of our last WS trip) Andy's had a go at producing a banana juice drink for me. It's a little thin and could do with a touch of sugar but I enjoy it and think it's a very sweet gesture.

    After breakfast James asks us if we'd like to go out on an extra drive - of course we jump at the chance. We drive through an area of majestic yellow Fever Trees and Ficus Sycamores along the edge of the Bhanzi Pan. We see many birds, nyala, vervet monkeys, crocodiles and even a little red duiker race across our path. James stops the car when we reach the other side of the waterfalls we approached in the boat earlier and we stretch our legs and admire the scenery before driving back to camp for about 12.30.

    After a glorious hot shower we sit out on our deck sharing the sunshine with some clothes we've washed and hung out to dry, in the hope that the monkeys don't grab them! From the deck we see a huge monitor lizard on the ground below us. He races after something then suddenly changes his mind and stops. We're not surprised looking at the size of the huge warthog he had targeted. The deck also gives us a lovely view of birds who enjoy the waterside setting as much as we do.

    I decide to have a brief snooze though I'm interrupted by a monkey who decides to sit on our roof and pee off it. The arch of urine outside the window is certianly one of the stranger sightings of the trip.

    At 2.30 we're back in the dining area enjoying tea, sausage rolls and crunchy flapjacks. Suddenly we're disturbed by a loud knocking sound and jump up to watch a daft pair of Forest Weavers attack themselves in the mirror just outside the dining room toilet. The mirror frame provides a ledge for them to sit on from which they glare angrily at their own reflections.

    The dining area is open but the dining table itself sits under a tall thatch roof. Welded to one edge of the underside is a swallows' nest and we watch and photograph the babies being fed by their two parents.

    After tea we set off on a drive to Nyamithi Pan. The sight of the yellow fever trees surrounding the water pan is one of the most beautiful I have seen. We drive along the edge of the North side watching lots of birds and some rather large crocodiles.

    We watch some funny interactions between birds and crocodiles. On one sandy beach several crocodiles happen to be lying in a semi circle facing towards land. When a great egret lands at the centre of the imagined circle it looks for all the world as though the bird is lecturing a class of crocodiles. A yellow billed stork and a grey heron flap down to join the egret and that's enough to terrify all the huge crocodiles back into the water!

    Away from the water's edge we come across crested guinea fowl hobbling along in a disorganised flock. James laughs as he explains that they are also referred to as Bob Marley birds. And sombre bulbuls, he says, are called Willie. Their calls to each other are translated as "Willie, come and play" followed by "No, I'm too scared."

    Ndumo really does have a high nyala population and we encounter lots more of these beautiful animals in the open forest areas. We also spot two grey duikers darting through the bushes. As we're driving along we encounter another porcupine trotting along the road. James reverses skilfully allowing us to keep it in sight for a little longer before it races away off road.

    Our sundowner stop overlooks a beautiful view of the water pan. On the opposite side we look at the beautiful yellow-barked trees and their reflection in the water. We also spot a lone giraffe approach the edge of the pan for a drink and laugh as it assumes the somewhat daft pose all giraffes adopt when reaching down to water.

    For dinner that evening we enjoy thai green curry, breaded lamb chops, filo pastries with a spinach and cheese filling and a warm and spongey peach tart with cream. Chatting with Andy after dinner I ask if his ring is an engagement one and he whips it off his finger as he tells me it isn't. It is however a gift from Shannon and we're mortified when he drops it and it falls through cracks in the deck floor onto the ground below. He tells us not to worry as he's hopeful he'll recover it with the help of a metal detector in the next day or two. Remind me not to ask young men about their marital status ever again!

    We retire to bed for another night in the bush.

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    Message: Kavey

    Thanks for the great report! Being an avid angler I can appreciate the "snail being counted as a catch" beats a waterlogged twig being the only catch.

    Dick

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    LOL Dick! We're not anglers at all! Infact the first time we fished was at Little Vumbura Camp in 2001 (Pete caught a nice bream) and the second and also last time we fished was this occasion at Ndumo!

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    Excellent read Kavey!!!

    Love your "teasing" list of demanded wildlife!! I can hear it now, "Let's see can we possibly see quintuplet pangolin newborns between the age of of 3-4 days old and we also would appreciate if you could arrange a visit from some aadvark newlyweds!!"

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    GD it was very funny yes... and James had also seen the (then) recent issue of Africa Geographic which featured a rare photograph of a pangolin mother with baby on it's back so he knew where I was coming from.

    Oh and forgot to mention - the day when we had our ele encounter - Pete was wearing his Elephant Tshirt - a beautiful Tshirt in which the entire front is covered by a painting of a lone bull elephant! Fitting eh?

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    1st June

    We're woken before time again by that insistent Heuglin's robin as well as a grunting hippo so we're both awake when we hear the call at 6 am. We slurp a little caffeine and grab a banana and we're soon off towards the South side of the area where we encounter large numbers of kingfishers. We get amazing and close views of giant, pied and malachite kingfishers who are all enjoying the abundance of these waters.

    We don't initially realise how lucky we are with some of our bird sightings. A colourful bird lands on a low branch just above us and I ask James what it is as we admire it's pretty plumage. He tells us it's a narina trogon and that the guests that left just before our arrival were desperately hoping to see one but were unlucky. Because we're not sufficiently serious birders to be searching for specific species we're always pleased rather than disappointed with whatever we're lucky enough to see. Only a few minutes later we see what James tells us a palmnut vulture, another bird that the recent guests unsuccessfully looked for.

    Shortly afterwards we encounter a group of four young male giraffes. I laugh in surprise when I notice the excited state of one of the four and watch him chase one of the others around a tree.

    At 9.45 we're back at camp for breakfast and I really enjoy a blue cheese omelette, a sausage and some rather scrumptious spare ribs, potato wedges with cheese and chicken drumsticks. I really don't know how one can build up such an appetite sitting pretty inside a landrover and doing nothing more active than looking at the sights all about.

    After breakfast we pay our bill (unlike Botswana and Namibia WS camps, SA ones are not all inclusive and bar drinks/ sundowner drinks are extra). We say goodbye to Shannon who gives us a little paper bag for our road journey with flapjacks and chocolate inside. Andy and James drive us back to our car - James' leave starts at the same time as our departure and he's asked us to give him a lift as far as the main road.

    Given that James' home is not that far out of our way we offer to take him all the way home rather than leave him on the roadside looking for another ride. On the way we pass cotton fields with white fluffy cotton ripe for harvesting as well kids selling sugar cane and making a rand or two from each stick.

    James directs us to his village and the last bit is on sandy tracks past a number of neighbouring houses. When we reach his house he introduces us to his parents, wife and kids. His neice is there too as James supports not only his own family but his parents and siblings and their families too. I hold his big bouncing baby son for a few moments but this terrifies the baby's older brother who starts wailing. I take some photos of the family together before we say our goodbyes and Pete and I set off on our way.

    We stop in Pongola for petrol and groceries before continuing to Ithala. This park is one of the most poorly sign-posted of those we visit and a good map is essential. The turn off the main road is not sign-posted so we make a successful guess based on where we think the turn off should be.

    We arrive at Ithala gate at 3.30 pm and enter the park towards Ntshondwe. Within minutes an immense white rhino meanders out of the grass to our right and crosses the road only a few yards ahead of our car. This is our closest rhino sighting yet!

    At Ntshondwe we get the keys and information for Thalu Bush Camp and pause to buy some beer in the curio shop before heading out just after 4pm. We look at the map and decide to take the 4x4 shortcut to Thalu rather than the longer regular route. It's a scary road with some very steep slopes but we make it to Thalu by 4.45.

    I am very disappointed by Thalu. Whilst I was aware it would be a little rustic I had no idea that the bathroom and toilet would not be within the same building as the bedrooms, kitchen and lounge. Instead the bathroom is some distance away down a path and the toilet is further still. Thalu is not a fenced property and I know I won't be comfortable walking that far out from the main building in the middle of the night. As someone who always needs to use the facilities during the night this is a very big deal.

    Deciding whether to stay or dash back to Ntshondwe is nerve racking because we have no idea whether there is actually any accommodation available there and if there is we might be charged for both. We are also aware that the Ntshondwe gates close at 5.30. Ontop of that is the disappointment that our chalet at Thalu comes with a private field ranger whereas Ntshondwe chalets do not.

    We decide to leave. We have made the mistake of unpacking luggage from the car on arrival - we should first have checked out the property before bothering as we now have to load it all back into the car.

    We try to stop via the field office near Thalu incase an officer there can phone ahead for us but we are unable to find anyone. Having wasted more time we leave the office at 5.10 and Pete drives back to Ntshondwe as fast as he can without driving dangerously. We arrive at 5.35 and the gates are still open. Furthermore the receptionist tells us that they have plenty of chalets free. I can see that she's clearly used to Thalu guests changing their mind and coming back to Ntshondwe and suggest that much of this could be avoided if the description of Thalu provided by KZN Wildlife mentioned that the bathroom and toilet facilities are in an outbuilding rather than attached to the main unit.

    Because I made our booking more than 3 months in advance of our arrival we had to book a Ntshondwe chalet and put our names on a request list for Thalu as bookings are not processed more than 3 months in advance. This means have already paid the higher price of a Ntshondwe chalet (I was advised to use the credit of the difference on purchases in the camp shop or restaurant). The receptionist informs us that we will not be charged for both units and simply transfers the payment I've already made to the chalet she has just assigned to us.

    Chalet 7 is a self-catering chalet for 2 and is absolutely gorgeous. It's very large with a beautiful open plan living area, a well-planned kitchen that is half open to the living area, a twin bedroom and a bathroom with shower over bath. The living room looks out onto a covered patio area with an outdoor braai provided. The layout of the chalets is very clever and maximises privacy between chalets. Ours is surrounded by large boulders and trees. Each chalet also has a parking space nearby. In and around all the chalets a large population of rock hyrax, also known as dassies, race along branches and pause on the rocks.

    The relief is just palpable and we're both in absolutely fantastic mood. Rustic is one thing but being too terrified to go to the toilet in the night is quite another! To celebrate we decide to have our evening meal in the camp restaurant which is just a few minutes away. The buffet is 90 Rand per person and offers a good choice, provided you eat meat. Whilst there are vegetarian options the choice is pretty limited and I know I'd feel churlish about paying 90 Rand if I were a veggie. Some of the dishes in the buffet are roast meats and attendant vegetables and gravies, spaghetti bolognaise, soup and a large range of salads, seafood starters and breads, desserts such as chocolate pudding, fruit crumble and ice cream. Quality not amazing but perfectly acceptable and a welcome alternative for those who don't fancy cooking.

    The chalet is a little cool but there is a small electric heater that we leave on in the bedroom to warm it up a little and spare blankets are located in one of the wardrobes. Somewhat drained we sleep early and very well.

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    2nd June

    Ah the luxury of an easily accessible bathroom! After lovely hot shower/ bath and breakfast we set off at 9.30 to tour the park.

    Within a few minutes (before reaching map point 6) we encounter a lone white rhino right by the road. It could be the same one that we saw yesterday or a different one, we're not really sure. Wonderful clear sighting and pretty darn close.

    Over the next few hours we enjoy driving around the park. The scenery is just incredible. Sweeping vistas of hills and plains worn by centuries of weather with the backdrop of the huge cliff against which Ntshondwe is nestled. Covered with golden grasses beneath a beautiful blue sky it's an incredible sight. All the more so given that we're not encountering any other cars.

    We come across wildebeest, zebras, warthogs, impalas, rocks that looked like rhinos (with spiney ridges and everything), birds of various species, baboons, nyala and some animals which we just couldn't work out between lesser kudu and mountain nyala).

    At 12.30 we pause at the rather abandoned picnic site. We cross the suspension bridge - the small river is dry at this time of year - and have a little walk around the area and peer through the bushes at the Pongola river which is certainly not dry. Crossing back over we're pleased to find the toilets are not locked and are clearly still cleaned and stocked regularly even in this quiet season.

    We continue on to a loop that strikes us as heading into a less visited part of the reserve (not that we've seen any other visitors at all so far). I'm keen to see black rhinos and, whilst we drive through the thick, bushy scrubland I believe they prefer, we pass a number of current rhino latrines along the road. But no rhinos. Instead I'm thrilled to spot and then identify by myself a pretty group of blue waxbills. I don't do so well working out what the bright yellow birds we see near them are but redeem myself by identifying which types of starlings are which.

    We stop for lunch in the car at a beautiful viewpoint and enjoy the view. We feast on bread, salami, peanut butter, crisps and soft drinks. I'd definitely recommend packing lunches when self-driving the parks as it really lets you get further from camp and into some more remote areas of the parks.

    Coming back towards the more central part of the park we spot a (white) rhino sleeping in the distant grasses. Around him are wildebeest, warthogs, impalas and zebras. Something we haven't seen for a while are tsessabes - one of the odder looking animals in Africa and we're excited to spot a large, lone eland within the loose grouping of other ungulates. Behind on the ridge of a hill a large flock of ostrich march determinedly towards an unknown goal.

    On the way back to our chalet we pause in the shop for firewood and postcards. From the chalet we take a walk to the hide but unfortunately there is no water and absolutely nothing to see. Instead we decide to call it a day. I soak in a long, hot bath and Pete lights the fire in the living room. We cook an easy dinner of pasta and hot dogs and relax by reading infront of the fire before bed.


    3rd June

    We're up and out shortly after 9 am and today decide to take the Ngubhu Loop. Soon we come across vervet monkeys - adults seriously engaged in feeding or grooming, youngsters chasing each other up and down trees, in and out of bushes and occasionally receiving a reprimand from an adult they almost bowl over as they dash past. Also see a beautiful grey duiker, a pair of kudu (using our book we can easily confirm, because of the spinal crests on the females, that they are greater kudu as have been most we have seen so far on the trip), a large herd of impalas and more rhino latrines in the road.

    After these animals we pass quite a long period without seeing any others but the views are so magnificient it really doesn't matter. We head downwards and cross the Ngubhu River and spot a giraffe to our right. Because he's down in the river bed itself he appears to be hiding from us as only his head is visible. The roads here are hilly with lots of steep and crumbly roads. As well as a number of fiscal shrikes and ostriches we spot more wildebeest, male impalas, tsessabe and warthog. We also pause at some abandoned stone rondavels. These were inhabited not so long ago by local people who were rehoused outside the reserve. I can't help but wonder how they feel being moved out of one of the most beautiful places on earth to be resettled in a boring village on it's outskirts but do appreciate the need to guard such a unique environment. From what I understand many now find employment within the reserve and in the businesses supplying it.

    Today we return to camp for lunch after which we walk to the pool to check it out. It's a nicely created area and, if the weather were warmer, it would be a nice break to a few days of safari to spend an hour or two relaxing here. I read here for a short time whilst Pete follows a steep walking path up from the pool before we head for the chalet, grab the car and get back into the park.

    Our first stop is to return to the main gate of the park for petrol. The gate guard (also the petrol attendant) happily points out a rhino off in the distance and after filling up we head in that direction to get a closer view. The rhino determinedly walks through the tall grass without approaching either our road or the one on the other side of the hill and after a while we continue around this loop.

    After driving about the park a little more and just enjoying the scenery, animals and emptiness we head back to camp once more. Before dinner we pause at the reception to pay outstanding debts, including dinner for this evening, and then head into the restaurant. Spotting the German couple whose company we enjoyed over drinks in the St Lucia guest house, we invite them to join us at our table for dinner. They too think the park is beautiful and the accommodation wonderful.

    Another night enjoying the open fire in the living room and a few drinks as we relax before bed.

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    Ditto Kavey,
    The more you write, the more we'll enjoy reading. But I don't know if you'll get around to posting too much more before you leave for your trip to the Antarctic. I'm jealous
    :-P Have a blast.
    Take some good pics for us too, while we still await your current lot of Africa photos. Don't get too far behind. ;-)

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    4th June
    This morning we're up, showered, breakfasted, packed and out by 8.30 am as we have a long drive ahead of us to Berg-en-Dal in Kruger. I feel a little sad leaving Ithala because it really is such a beautiful park but I'm looking forward to the next destination too.

    We pass some interesting sights, some funny, some sad; in a field to the side of the road are two cows side by side both pushing head first into the side of a cow infront of them; on a quiet stretch of road a forlorn dog runs to and from a dead puppy in the road, sniffing and mourning and willing it back to life.

    At some point on the journey we pass signs for Inkomazi dairy products. The slogan "Inkomazi - Rich and Creamy - We give you more" somehow makes us laugh and I sing it in a lilting melody every now and then along the trip.

    By 10.45 we've reached as far as Piet Retief where we take on more petrol. From this point onwards we're following a small pick up truck with a huge fridge standing upright in the back, tied down by what we hope are good, strong ropes.

    At Amsterdam we take a right and continue (following the fridge) through a pretty area where the land has been worn by eons into bosomous mounds. We spot a troop of vervets crossing the road; they seem to have got road safety mastered pretty well.

    Shortly we arrive at Nerston (Sandlane) where we begin immigration procedures to enter Swaziland. First we need to go through the exit stuff for South Africa. We complete documents and are also advised to register the camera to ensure no problems arise when we re-enter South Africa. There is a huge problem with illegal goods being brought in from Mozambique via Swaziland. Once we've gone through passport control we are also stopped for a car check and one of the policemen opens the bonnet, checks the registration number and calls a central department in South Africa to check where and to whom the car is registered. Then we pass on through Swaziland immigration which takes only a few minutes, including the payment of a small road tax. Overall the process takes us about half an hour.

    The roads in Swaziland are in much worse condition than those in South Africa and most are too narrow to allow passing all of which leads to some slow progress, especially when we're held up by large lorries carrying very heavy loads up the very steep hills. Of course, the fridge, in front of us, is held up just as much.

    Mbabane proves to be a problem. A left turn we need to take is not signed (at all, not by road name, direction or by destination). We end up looping through the town, by the central bus station and deciding on the turn by sheer guess work.

    I have read about the excellent craft centres on our route and we stop at one called Peak Craft Centre, near Pigg's Peak. There are a selection of small stores with some really lovely items and I choose 3 finely worked woven wire decorative bowls. We also stop for lunch at the Phumulani restaurant, on site. South African rand are accepted and we enjoy a ham and cheese toastie each whilst looking out over a beautiful landscape. Pete has a coffee, I really enjoy my "herbal tea with honey" which is an infusion of lemongrass served with a pot of wonderfully unctuous honey. The site also has clean toilets for guest use.

    We don't tarry too long and continue towards the Matsomo exit point which we reach at 3.45. This time it takes us only 10 minutes to exit Swaziland and re-enter South Africa though we're initially a little concerned by the extent of the queus in both the office and on the road. We're dealth with pretty quickly however and are soon back on our way.

    We arrive at Malelane Gate at 4.30 and I'm keen to get on as I know that we're not permitted to be driving in the park beyond a certain time (which I'm not sure is 5.30 or 6.00 in this park) and it's still a distance to Berg-en-Dal camp. Unfortunately the reception at Malelane is absolutely chaotic. One man deals with a long, long queue of visitors with and without reservations, some also deciding to buy Wildcard membership and so on. Others busy themselves doing very little outside the reception building. It strikes me that it would be better to have one person dealing with existing reservations and another dealing with those who haven't made any yet. Even though there are only a handful of people infront of me (I arrive at just the right moment) it takes well over 15 minutes for me to reach the front of the queue, register and get my documents.

    We drive to camp, feeling rather tired after a long day in the car, some of which has been a little fraught with worry over whether we will reach the park in time to be allowed in. We see some cars parked to one side, their passengers looking through binoculars at a distant tree. I peer at it without binoculars and believe the shape I can see in the branches is a leopard but a) it's a fair distance away and we've seen leopards at much closer quarters, b) there are too many cars clustered there already and c) we're exhausted and just want to get to camp. We find out the next day that it was indeed a leopard but neither of us regrets our decision to skip the sight.

    Berg-en-Dal Camp is much bigger and better equipped than the KZN parks but also feels less intimate. It's like driving through a complete town. We stop at reception and are assigned to chalet 30. The accommodation is spacious though I don't personally like the design as much as other places we've stayed (such as Addo, Ntshondwe or Ubizane). The kitchen and bathroom are pretty small. The living area is quite large and there are three beds arranged around the wall. They are built in so we can't drag them closer together which is a shame as I sometimes sleep badly when I can't touch Pete for comfort when strange noises wake me during the night. There are two bedroom chalets available, I don't know what their layout would be like. The chalets have a nice patio area outside and the ubiquitous braai as well.

    Because we're so tired we head straight to the camp restaurant for dinner at 6.00 pm when they open. The buffet is OK but nothing special, the quality isn't too good and the choice isn't that appealing either. Desserts are particularly disappointing. A la carte is not available. Still, we enjoy chatting to guests at a neighbouring table during the meal. We find out that they emigrated from the UK in 1974 and come to Kruger often.

    After reading a while we have an early night. It's cold in the chalet though and it's just as well the third bed is made up because it means there are more spare blankets for us to share between our beds.

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    5th June

    Bacon and eggs really are a wonderful start to a day! We're up and out by 8.30 though we pause to admire several scarlett-breasted sunbirds feeding on the orange flowers in the flowerbeds in the camp area.

    Just outside we spot what we're sure is a racket-tailed roller on a telephone or electricity wire near the road. The bird has a russet-brown back, a slightly greeny head, dark eye strips, a long divided tail and a bright blue area underneath his body and wings.

    We quickly realise that Kruger is excellent for birding as we watch two lilac-breasted rollers swoop briefly through the sky before perching and calling to each other loudly. We laugh about their quite raucous call and agree that it wouldn’t be fair to give them the good looks and a nice call. It would make the other birds much too jealous!

    We enjoy sightings of grey lourie, cape turtle doves, yellow-billed horbills and a Natal francolin that races across the road. A terrapin sits sunning itself by the Matjulu River as we cross. A pair of laughing doves laugh loudly at each other. A bird of prey speeds out of view above us before we can identify it. Burchell's starlings perch on roadside bushes that they share with many more hornbills. It's wonderful.

    The bird sightings are more prevalent than anything else but we do encounter several zebra, a few wildebeest and some buffalo. The buffalo are by the Mambane River and near the water we come across a number of water birds including plovers, which I really like.

    After crossing the river we come across several long-tailed shrike (male and female) and red-billed hornbill sitting in the same low tree. Behind them are a number of zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and impala. One of the giraffes is just a baby and we think the adult sitting nearby is it's mother. It's a wonderful scene and hard to tear ourselves away but we know we've a long drive still ahead of us.

    One advantage of Kruger is that there are (very occasional) break sites with toilet facilities which is just as well as this park is much too biusy to find a quiet stretch of road and go behind a bush!

    After the pause we continue to have good bird sightings coming across a striped kingfisher, several more lilac-breasted rollers and both yellow- and red-billed hornbills.

    We reach Skukuza a little before midday and decide to stop there for lunch. We order in the cafeteria, pay and sit in the shaded patio area until our order is bought out to us. From here we can see out over the river to the old railway bridge from the railway line that used to come into the park.

    After our toasties and milkshakes we pause in the large shop for some sweets and biltong. It's an absolutely huge camp and if Berg-en-Dal was a town it's a city. I'm glad we're not staying here as it's just not what I think of when I think of the remoteness of the safari experience.

    As we leave the park I'm startled that we immediately recognise a fork-trailed drongo, a bird we saw a few of in Ndumo. I realise that actually we have come to know by heart a lot of the commoner bird species. Neither of us are into birding at home but really enjoy it so much in Africa. We both agree that we're going to get some UK birding books and plan some trips to see some of our more local species.

    The bridge over the sand river is low and wide and a large baboon troop have set up camp for the day on and by it. We cross slowly, pausing to watch and take pictures as they drink water, play, groom and watch us. In the water are a handsome pair of reed cormorants. On the far bank are a herd of impala and after we've crossed we pause and watch as two of them fight, horns clashing.

    A small mammal scurries across the road infront of us but he's hidden by the long grass before we can get a good look. We think he's a mongoose of some kind. Our next sightings are also animal rather than avian as we encounter more zebras, impalas and wildebeest.

    We reach Mazittu (sp?) Pan/ Dam at around 2.00 pm and stop to watch grey herons wading, little grebes scooting across the water, glossy ibis, african spoonbills, blackwinged stilts and some unidentified geese. Quite a collection.

    As we leave, spotting a large kudu female, I'm very excited to clearly see a grey hornbill fly slowly by. It flies parallel to us for a while before veering away. I have seen plenty of yellow-billed and some red-billed but never a grey before.

    At the next water pan we watch a large family group of waterbuck, some of whom cross the water at a narrow point, suddenly starting and splashing the rest of the way. There are jacanas, a woolly necked stork, a noisy blacksmith plover and some baboons and impalas.

    Continuing on our way we encounter surprising numbers of yellow-billed hornbills hopping about in the road, swooping low above it or perching in the low bushes to either side. One perched horbill was making short work of a tasty worm it had found. Almost as numerous as the hornbills were the lilac breasted rollers red-billed hornbills. We spotted a few more grey hornbills too. It seemed to me that they were waiting for something and soon enough we worked it out.

    Suddenly our path was littered with slow-moving crickets. Their hard armour seemed do to little to protect them from the determined birds who were absolutely feasting on them. Even at our slow speed we nearly ran over a lilac-breasted roller who ignored our slow approach as it focused on one of the crickets. We slowed further and watched as it flew into a nearby branch. What was slightly surreal was the way in which all the crickets seemed to be crossing the road in one direction as though performing some mysterious mass migration.

    The crickets were so numerous that we inevitably ran one over, despite Pete's delicate swerving ballet along the road, and felt as well as heard the sickening crunch as his shell broke beneath our weight and the birds rushed in to claim an easier prize. I was saddened that so many of our fellow visitors continued to drive at or above the maximum permitted speed thereby crushing large numbers of the crawling crickets.

    Not wanting to miss out on the activity a red necked francolin mother trotted along the edge of the road followed obediently by her brood of babies before veering back into the tall grasses where we could no longer see her. Looking up above the grassline we saw giraffes feeding languorously on leafy bushes.

    Crossing the Nwanetsi River we saw crocodiles and a crowned plover. On the other side of the river a starling and a yellow-billed hornbill flew parallel to us for a while, allowing us an unusual view of their bodies in flight before landing together, an unlikely pair, in a tall tree. Another tree nearer the road bore a flock of shrikes, probably contemplating the large millipede I spotted in the road nearby.

    As well as birds we saw larger game too: kudus, zebra, giraffes, wildebeest and impala. These sightings were particularly frequent as we neared, crossed and passed the Olifants River - a stunning scene to introduce us to the Olifants area.

    We arrived at Olifants Camp at 4.30 and checked in to chalet 8, one of the self-catering, river-view rondavels. The camp sits on a steep hill so the river is quite far below. We unpacked, enjoyed a drink on the verandah and read our books for a while whilst we absorbed the sounds of animals and birds around us.

    At 6.00 pm we walked across to the restaurant and enjoyed an absolutely wonderful buffet dinner, certainly the best quality and choices of any of the government rest camp buffets we'd previously eaten in. Between us we enjoyed spinach soup, roast chicken, roast beef, kudu cottage pie, a good selection of vegetables and salads, a marvellous bread and butter pudding, custard, chocolate mousse, cheese cake, fruit and cheese. Pete had some fine South African wine and we also enjoyed chatting to the staff, manager and other guests. An hour and a half later we sauntered home for an early night.

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    Kavey,

    Lovely, lovely .......... please keep going as I'm sure we're all happy to read as much as you have time to write.

    Your comments on hornbills brought back memories of our trip to S Tanzania - they were lovingly know by our guide as "Chilli-peppers" and "Bananas" ....... I hope it's obvious why.

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    Kavey,

    We're thinking of Namibia for the next trip & I've been as patient as I can but ............. please .............[-o<

    even a much shortened version with highlights (I'm sure there weren't any lowlights) would be much appreciated.

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    Blush, I kind of "forgot" about finishing this...

    On this trip we didn't do much of a tour in Namibia - we had one night in Windhoek and 4 in Wolwedans Dune Lodge and that was it. I'll try and find some time to add the rest of the diary here ASAP but it won't be in next couple of weeks.

    The itinerary is as follows:

    06-May 6 nts Cape Town
    We stayed in the Garden Suite at Jambo Guest House. We visited Robben Island, took the cable car up Table Mountain, explored the city centre, took a day drive to Cape Point (stopping to see the penguins at Boulders Beach), spent a day with tourguide and friend Selwyn (who showed us some of the winelands as well as a township called Kayamundi) and even found time for shopping.

    12-May 3 nts Franschhoek, winelands
    Our home for this part of the trip was Plumwood Inn. We stayed in their pretty Vineyard Room. During our time in the winelands we visited a number of local wine estates. took a day trip to Hermanus and enjoyed some of the great restaurants that the area is known for.

    15-May 1 nt Swellendam
    An overnight stop to break up the drive, with some sightseeing along the way. We stayed in the lovely Aan de Oever.

    16-May 2 nt Oudtshoorn
    We stayed in Thylitshia Villa which is a short distance outside of town. Main attractions for us were the Cango Caves and a local wildlife conservation centre. We were able to pet tame cheetahs and see many beautiful animals close up.

    18-May 2 nts Knysna
    Knysna was our base to explore this beautiful region of the Garden Route. We stayed in the Inyathi Guest Lodge which was right in the town centre. During our stay we explored the local region and took a boat out into the lagoon.

    20-May 1 nt Storms River Village
    Keen to enjoy the Tree Tops Canopy Tour we stayed one night at the Storms River Guest Lodge, a last minute booking. Despite my fear of heights the tree tops experience was amazing!

    21-May 2 nts Addo
    For our stay in Addo Elephant National Park I booked us an ensuite chalet with it's own kitchenette. This accommodation is part of the comfortable government run rest camp and allowed us to self-cater and stick to a low budget. We got a map of the park on arrival and drove ourselves around, for the most part, though we also booked an Eyethu hop-in guide, Headman, to guide us in the comfort of our own car for a few hours.

    23-May Flight to Durban
    23-May 1 nt Ballito
    On arrival at Durban we collected our car and drove straight to Ballito where we met an internet friend, Kim. We had a lovely lunch in a local restaurant before a quick stop at Kim's new home. Building was almost complete though the interiors weren't quite finished. We then spent the rest of the afternoon at Kim's apartment. Very relaxing!

    24-May 2 nts Umfolozi
    After reading romantic reports about Mpila Camp safari tents (another government run rest camp) we decided to spend two nights in the famous Imfolozi Park during which time spotted lots of game. We also saw our very first rhino (a white one). The park was beautiful, visitors were scarce and we really liked our accommodation. The second day was spent in Hluhluwe Park. We saw a lot more rhino here and the scenery is even more stunning though we saw a better variety of game in next-door Imfolozi.

    26-May 1 nt Hluhluwe
    Our next night was spent in the Zululand Safari Lodge, located in Ubizane, a private reserve bordering Hluhluwe (pronounced "Shlooshlooweh"). The accommodation at Ubizane was absolutely wonderful and a real bargain compared with prices for the government rest camp at Hilltop. It was only a few minutes outside the park exit. The buffer dinner and breakfast were excellent too.

    27-May 3 nts St Lucia
    We stayed 3 nights in the Avalone Guest House. The location was good, our room was pretty and comfortable and the hostess, Monica was a darling. We were the only guests for the first two nights and really relaxed. On the last night I cooked an Indian meal and we had a little dinner party with a couple of Monica's friends. Whilst in the area we took a wonderful boat trip on the Estuary and also drove into the Cape Vidal park.

    30-May 2 nts Ndumo
    The Ndumo Game Reserve is just beautiful, though the drive there was a little rough and rocky. The water pans are surrounded by the yellow fever trees and sycamore figs. Birding is truly excellent and we also saw many other animals including lots of hippos, some huge crocs, 2 porcupines and a bushbaby. We splashed out and stayed in Wilderness Safaris' Ndumo Wilderness Camp. We were the only guests both nights and our hosts Andy and Shannon were very attentive. Our guide, James Tembe, was excellent.

    01-Jun 3 nts Ithala
    Ithala offered the most magnificent landscapes and was almost empty of other visitors. We were originally booked into Thalu Bush Camp but were not happy with the bathroom and toilet, both in separate buildings some distance from the main residential building (along paths open to all animals). We switched our booking to the main camp, Ntshondwe and loved our self-catering chalet - best design of all those we stayed in. We fell in love with the scenery and had some good animal sightings including some really close up encounters with white rhino.

    04-Jun 1 nt Berg-en-Dal, Kruger
    To break up the long drive between Ithala and Olifants (and to avoid the dangerous area around Hazyview) we opted to drive up through Swaziland and stop overnight Berg-en-Dal, located at the southernmost tip of Kruger National Park. It was a long drive but Swaziland is a beautiful country. Roads there are much worse than SA roads.

    05-Jun 3 nts Olifants, Kruger
    A popular camp within the vast Kruger National Park, the Olifants camp is situated on top of a hill towering several hundred feet over the river of the same name. We stayed in an ensuite riverview bungalow with it's own little kitchenette. We enjoyed our drives in Kruger, though it was certainly more crowded than other parks. We saw lots of elephants and birding was good. We took a disappointing organised night drive and a much more exciting river walk with the camp guides.

    08-Jun 1 nt Jo'burg
    After a very long drive we overnighted at an inexpensive chain hotel before our early morning flight to Maun, Botswana.

    09-Jun 3 nts Savuti Camp
    Another Wilderness Safaris camp, Savuti is situated in the Linyanti/ Savuti area that is well known for the high density of elephants. We were disappointed that they had demolished the bathtub that we had been promised but never mind. Excellent game viewing here - we particularly enjoyed the afternoon with the wild dogs and another drive with three cheetah brothers.

    12-Jun 3 nts Jacana Camp
    Jacana is also a Wilderness Safaris camp and is located within the waters of the Okavango Delta. We found it absolutely magical. We took mokoro trips and power boar trips and just soaked up the beautiful scenery. This camp really was one of the most romantic we visited.

    15-Jun 2 nts Tubu Tree
    Tubu Tree, another Wilderness Safaris camp, was a really good choice. The accommodation was wonderful and our guide, Grant, was absolutely excellent. We even saw leopards mating at this camp (right in camp itself, during dinner one evening!)

    17-Jun 1 nt Gudigwa Camp
    This Wilderness Safaris camp is a joint project between the tour operator and the local "Bukakhwe" (San Bushman) population. We spent an evening around the fire (after the bush men lit it using a traditional firestick) and enjoyed singing and dancing and traditional food. In the morning we enjoyed a walk with an elder man and woman who explained the uses of various plants and told us several stories. All of this was translated by a younger member of their peoples who acted as our guide.

    18-Jun 4 nts Little Mombo
    Having stayed at Little Mombo before we were pleased to enjoy the second experience as much as the first. The manageress, Elmari, is very sweet and thoughtful and our guide, Tsile, had a lot of experience in the area. We had some wonderful sightings including leopard, hyena, lion, cheetah etc. A new chef (since our last visit) meant that the food really was a step above.

    22-Jun 4 nts Jacks Camp
    Jack's Camp is situated in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans of the Kalahari Desert and is just charming. Our guide, Graham, was fantastic and I don't say that just because he's from North London. Only 22 and yet he was enthusiastic, thoughtful, knowledgable. We had some wonderful wildlife experiences - brown hyena, meerkats, flamingoes, zebras as well as lots of other fun activities. This camp really is a special place.

    26-Jun 1 nt Hilltop House, Windhoek
    After our stay at Jack's Camp we flew to Windhoek, via Maun, and overnighted at Hilltop House. They had strewn flowers on our bed in the outline of two hearts and were very welcoming. We also enjoyed a meal at Joe's Beerhouse.

    27-Jun 4 nts Wolwedans Dunes Lodge
    We finished our grand adventure at Wolwedans in the heart of the Namibrand Nature Reserve. Having lost our hearts to this enchanting place in 2001 we chose it to renew our wedding vows in it's beautiful embrace. We were upgraded from a Dune Lodge to the Mountain View Suite - just too wonderful for words. On our first night we enjoyed dinner with two guests from France. For the rest of the trip we were the only guests in the whole lodge. We had made friends on our last trip with Louise, an Englishwoman who has spent the last two decades in Africa, and she was kind enough to hold the ceremony for us. Our guide Pembi and operations manager Ralph (who we also met last time) did some readings for us. Julius, who worked in the Dune Lodge, took photos during the ceremony and also sang a special song for us on our last night. Other staff also attended and all of them really looked after us. The scenery is as beautiful as we remembered and the whole stay was just perfect.

    01-Jul Flights home, arrive on 02-Jul

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    Kavey,

    Thank you so much - what a speedy response.

    The animal viewing sounds amazing - cheetahs, dogs and to cap it all, leopards mating!!!

    The ending to your trip sounds so beautiful and so moving - it definitely brought on goosebumps as I read it. Cogratulations again.

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    (I thought I had already posted this on 5/01 midday, but then I could not find it. If my post appears twice, my apologies.)

    What a comprehensive guide! Your South African portion of the trip mentioned some interesting areas I have not seen much on the board. Great you saw porcupines!

    Your Botswana travels read like the Wilderness catalog. You certainly sampled a wide array of their offerings.

    I was sorry to learn that Gudigwa, where you stayed with the Bukakhwe tribe, will not be operating in 2006 (and may have closed already). I had been booked for Guidigwa in 2006.

    Could you elaborate on the meerkat and brown hyena experience at Jack's? How long, time of day, what were the creatures doing? Thanks and thanks for the latest installment.

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    6th June

    Lovely egg and bacon cooked breakfast in our little outdoor kitchenette watching vervet monkeys play nearby and sparrows, starlings and another crested barbet flit about.

    We head for reception and book the organised morning walk activity for tomorrow before heading out on a drive.

    This morning we cross lots of streams and follow roads next to rivers leading to lots of sightings of hippos and elephants. We are able to get out at one viewpoint and enjoy the sighting of quite a few hippos at the water's edge infront of us. The water is so clear we can even see the ones that are fully submerged and moving along in the river.

    As we cross more streams we enjoy the dragonflies – two main types, one which is bright red and the other a bright turquoisy blue.

    We also come across several groups of the ubiquitous impala, a huge baboon that walks into the road ahead of us, a large giraffe with particularly dark markings and several oxpeckers picking their meals from his coat and a natal francolin having a bit of a dustbath.

    At around 10 we head towards Letaba stopping at more viewpoints en route which afford more sightings of hippos by the river. We see a couple of adult francolins at the roadside being followed by a brood of babies which then follow the adults across the road.

    Birding is good too including a great sighting of a fork-tailed drongo – it's distinctive tail shape certainly makes it one of the easier birds ot identify.

    At a larger river crossing we encounter impalas, zebras and a large water monitor swimming across and then clambering out. The next river crossing after that gives us some great views of a lilac-breasted roller – these are probably one of the more commonly sighted birds during our Kruger visit, along with hornbills, starlings and francolins.

    At the next viewpoint we come across a big tortoise (terrapin?) sunning on a rock jutting out of the water as well as a yellow billed egret, egyptian geese and two big elephants by the road munching contentedly.

    The abundance of water is clearly great for animals and birds alike – we spot another fork-tailed drongo and a malachite kingfisher who is very close to our position indeed. We also think we've spotted a burchell's coucal if our identification is correct – we do spend some time on it but sometimes it's harder to know for sure.

    A little after noon we arrive at Letaba Camp and stop there for lunch spotting more animals on our arrival including waterbuck, squirrels and a crested barbet.

    Before leaving we also tour Elephant Hall which displays photos and tusks of some of the most famous Kruger big tuskers as well as information panels on these amazing animals.

    On leaving we see more hippos but these ones aren't just lying in the sun but walking and feeding. Nearby birds include cattle egrets and grey herons. Waterbuck are also present. We can hardly go more than a few metres without encountering more hippos.

    And then more elephants – a larger group at the edge of the river, two of them mock-fightings with trunks entwined, the rest feeding and walking away from the water towards the road. As they come right up onto the road we notice that other visitors have parked all over the road and we are completely blocked in and unable to leave.

    Later we manage to get out of this little traffic jam and head for a series of tracks that are empty of other cars. We come across what we're fairly sure is a leopard tortoise though his shell is so dusty it's hard to be sure.

    Stopping at a hide we watch crocodiles, hippos (in and out of the water), spoonbills, open-billed storks, grey herons, yellow-billed storks, black storks, black-winged stilts and another fork-tailed drongo. On a tree near the hide is a black and yellow striped lizard with an almost metallic sheen and an insect we think is a kind of cricket. We stay at the hide, transfixed, for almost an hour.

    On leaving and crossing another ford we see dragonflies mating in the air and a pied wagtail bird before heading back towards the main, paved road.

    When on the main road we spot more hornbills as well as a large group of buffalo and a lone elephant with a broken tusk. We also spot a pair of saddle-billed storks on a tree which contains their nest. I hadn't realised they nested in such high trees – I'd imagined they nested nearer water but I don't know why I thought that.

    Back at camp we freshen up before heading to the restaurant for an early dinner. The buffet is pretty good – leek soup, lamb soup, fishcakes, salads, kudu pie (with tender chunks of meat), peanut sauce ribs, roast lamb, courgettes, baby yellow pattipan squashes, lemon meringue pie, cheesecake and then a complimentary amarula from the manager, Carl who we have been talking to during the evening.

    After dinner an early night.

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    No no no my bad, not an early night but the following:

    Tonight we do an organised night drive but the driver guide is clearly not enthused and completely ignores the guiding part of his duties. He passes the two large spotlights to the 4 of us on the tour and that's his entire involvement for the evening. We have to really persuade him to stop/ reverse when we think we have spotted something, he doesn't try and give us any information about what we're seeing and he certainly doesn't bother to contribute to the spotting efforts. Still, we see some hippo, giraffe, impala, elephants, a scrubhare, some birds (thought they'd all be asleep) and some bats.

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    It's the only kind I enjoy!
    I find it strange that people think it's cool to drink coca cola, sweet fruit juices and other sweet soft drinks with a meal but balk at the thought of a sweet wine with one!
    For those of us who just don't enjoy dry (or even medium) wines - an occasional glass of sweet wine with the meal rather than just with dessert can be very enjoyable!
    :D

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    Kavey-what do you do when you get a guide as the one described above? Do you still tip him, complain to the management? are you stuck with him the whole time there? Thanks, Dennis

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    Dennis, if I got a guide like that at an expensive private camp/ lodge I'd have words with management immediately but I figured that in this case chances were the guides were not all trained to the same high standard as those working in private camps, probably not paid as highly either.

    I did mention it when I went to reception the next day but no one seemed very interested so I dropped it...

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    8th June

    Up early today and leave chalet by 7 am pausing at reception to get a receipt for our last night – some changeover in booking system meant we hadn't been able to get this on arrival at the park/ camp – and at the petrol pump to fill up.

    Headed in the direction of Satara pausing less often as we had quite a distance to cover but sighting lots of giraffe, zebras, many birds, a group of wildebeest, one large lone bull elephant and what we decided was a little banded goshawk.

    Paused at Satara Camp for a comfort break before continuing on our journey and shortly afterwards paused by a huddle of cars to see a lioness and cub – saw the lioness but can't say we really saw the cub – there was a rustle of movement that may or may not have been it.

    A little later an eagle rose out of the grass right by the road with a snake held in it's talons, flew to a nearby tree and proceeded to eat it. As it was doing that we looked in our bird guide but couldn't decide on whether it was a brown snake eagle or a tawny eagle.

    When we passed Kumana Dam again a waterbuck family was there, as previously. At Mozithi Dam we saw a submerged hippo, more waterbuck, impala, several birds and 2 beautiful dead trees in the water.

    I slept most of the way to Skukuza so I don't know what potential sightings I missed for the next hour or so! On arrival at Skukuza we saw a warthog rush across the road. We filled up with petrol and then headed straight on.

    At 12.30 we exited Kruger Park and headed for Johannesburg, stopping for petrol and tolls en route. On arrival in Johannesburg we had a hell of a time finding our hotel – there were a lot of works going on on the main road by the airport and it seems that many of the exit signs had been changed – the instructions provided by our hotel on their website were clearly out of date. Eventually we got to our Holiday Inn and checked in at 5.00 pm.

    We ate dinner at the Spur restaurant in the hotel – nothing to write home about – before an early night.

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    I know someone to whom happened the same at J** Camp, and even there no one of management seemed very interested. (My friend still gets very loud if you mention the name of this camp.)

    Conclusion: Such things can happen everywhere, not only at public lodges but even at '6 paws' private camps.

    Mitch

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    9th June

    Wake at 6 and get ready, repack to split stuff between bags for Botswana and bag to be left at Johannesburg plus items in box to be passed on to James, our Ndumu guide. Settle bill and leave at 7.30 for the airport – it's so coooold outside! There's frost on the car!

    Returning the car to Avis takes longer than expected as the bill is 1600 Rand higher than it should be and I have to insist that they call Nicky in the Durban office (where we rented it) to resolve it as they seem to be unable/ unwilling to do so. She goes into the system there and makes changes that bring the bill back down to what it should have been but they refuse to explain the reason for the erroneous initial bill.

    We meet the Wilderness Safaris rep at our check in desk as arranged in advance and she takes the bag that they are keeping for us, the box for James plus a bottle of wine that we have bought as a thank you for keeping our bag and a few books we'd finished reading and wondered if anyone in the office might like.

    We check in and have plenty of time for breakfast before going through security. I stop at a pharmacist who is a really helpful character, very friendly, and then relax, writing and posting the few postcards I hadn't got around to sending.

    We board and sit down in row 1. I'm seated next to an older gentleman whose kids surprised him last night with this trip for his birthday. He's also headed for Savuti and for a few moments we marvel over that coincidence before I work out that he's headed for Savute Elephant Camp rather than the Wilderness Safaris Savuti Camp.

    Flight is just 1.5 hours. I make a maths error (working out number of days we'll be in Botswana) and get a right telling off from the official but he does grudgingly allow me to correct it and grants me a stamp for the right duration (after some serious grovelling).

    Only 40 minutes before our next flight which is a commuter plane (bigger than the teeny cessnas we prefer) and we hop to Tubu and Vumbura airstrips before our own at Chobe. From the air we see a hippo out of the water, some elephants at a waterhole and a herd of red lechwe.

    We land just after 2.00 and are collected by our guide, Thuto. On the way to camp we see a Bataleur in a tree but not much else.

    On arrival in camp I'm really disappointed to learn that the bathtub in tent one has been removed, part of the remodelling several months ago at which time raised walkways were installed and two extra tents added. Given that this specific aspect is actually part of our booking details I'm sorely disappointed that WS didn't bother to contact our agent and let us know in advance. We are shown to our tent – it's the furthest out from the others and doesn't have a view of the waterhole. On top of that the toilet and shower etc are not ensuite to the tent but along an outside corridor. I was willing to put up with that for a tub but not otherwise and the management offer to move us to another tent with ensuite bathroom and view of waterhole. We are reassigned to tent 3 which they make up as a double for us.

    We have tea in the public area whilst our bags are moved for us and we head straight off on a drive. We're not too thrilled to learn that we have been put into a car with a family with two children rather than the other car which has only 3 adults in it (who have not booked a private guide or vehicle) and later learn that management were certainly intending us to be in that group but were persuaded by two women in that group to put us with the family instead so they could benefit from a smaller group – they were repeat visitors and were certainly treated as such. I don’t have an issue with looking after repeat visitors but don't think this should be at the expense of other guests. Whilst the family are friendly and we get on with them there are certainly times when we feel our experience is compromised by their actions.

    The first drive is a gentle one – lots of birds, giraffe, wildebeest, zebras, impala and then a large herd of elephants during our sundowner. In the dark on the way back to camp we see impalas, spring hares and a pair of beautiful bat-eared foxes.

    We get back to our tent at 7.00 and are collected half an hour later for drinks before dinner. When we meet the other guests (the two English ladies who have been here several times) and a single guest with them I recognise him and when I ask him where it might be from he looks at us and says, you and your husband were on my plane when you came to Namibia in 2001. He's a Sesofane pilot and had just started the job when we flew with him – infact it was early enough that he had another pilot on the flight with him. I am gobsmacked that he not only recognises us but remembers where from! He has resigned from the job and is heading back to Canada but is enjoying a well-earned holiday in WS camps around Botswana first!

    Dinner is very nice – tomato and orange soup, roast beef fillets with peppercorn sauce, vegetables and sticky date cake.

    We head off to bed at 9 with two hot water bottles each as some of the other guests decline theirs!



    -----
    Mitch, that's certainly true but I'd have felt more cross about it happening at a luxury private camp where I'd paid a lot for the privelege than at a public rest camp where I'd paid considerably less!

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    Kavey,

    Wonderful Report! I am trying to plan a self drive tour for early next year. It sounds like driving was fairly easy.

    Also, it seems like you enjoyed the KZN area better than the Krueger area. I was thinking about Krueger only because that was all I heard about, but maybe I'll look into KZN instead. We will only have about 12 days.

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    We definitely enjoyed Hluhluwe, Imfolozi, Ndumo and Ithala more than Kruger though that's not to say we didn't enjoy Kruger too.

    We just prefered the lower visitor numbers of the other parks and the landscapes/ scenery were breathtaking too.

    By the way, worth point out that we did this trip last year and I'm just now getting around to adding more to the report!

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    PS Tandme2, welcome to the Africa board.

    Please do post a thread on your possible plans and you're bound to get lots of input from many other Fodorites here who have done similar self-drive safaris in South Africa.

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