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TRIP REPORT – 5 fantastic weeks in South Africa, Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Mauritius

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Feb 11th, 2009, 05:21 PM
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TRIP REPORT – 5 fantastic weeks in South Africa, Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Mauritius

We are an Australian family of four (Mom, Dad and two teenage daughters aged 15 and 16) who have recently returned from a fantastic trip to Southern Africa!!. I, (the Mom), grew up in South Africa but moved to Australia 22 years ago, with our last visit to South Africa some 14 years ago ..... so as you can imagine, a lot has changed. My husband fell in love with Africa on his first trip there many moons ago, and our daughters could not remember their last visit. With Daughter #1 entering her last year at school it was decided that it was time to show them some of their heritage .... and what a lovely time we had!
South Africa has been described as a “world in one country”, and that was our challenge. We wanted to see it all, BUT, we also wanted a holiday! We all lead busy lives, and the final school year is a huge work load, so rest and relaxation was also important. We tried to cram in as many “must sees” as possible, while not trying to rush. We flew 11 sectors, and thankfully we had very few delays, which made this manageable. As a general rule, we love beautiful scenery and are not great “city” people, and our choice of places to stay reflected this.
Briefly, our itinerary was as follows:
Flights Sydney – Perth – Johannesburg (Qantas and SAA - about 19 hours) Arrived 6pm.
Overnight in Johannesburg at the Courtyard Hotel Eastgate (close to the airport).
Self drive to Drakensberg Mountains, staying 5 nights at Didima (including Christmas).
Self drive to Johannesburg airport for flight to Hoedspruit (SAA), followed by 4 nights in the Kruger National Game Reserve (2 nights Satara camp and 2 nights Letaba camp).
Self drive to Gomo Gomo for two nights at their brand new lodge.
New Year’s Day - Self drive to Nelspruit airport for return flight to Johannesburg (SAA). Once again collected a hire car and spent two nights at Random Harvest Country Cottages in Muldersdrift (west of Johannesburg). This was special “family time”, catching up with my brother and his family, and my 98 year old grandmother (all of whom live in Johannesburg)!
Returned our hire car at Johannesburg airport and took a flight to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (British Airways). No hire car this time. Transfers included to The Kingdom Hotel, where we spent 2 nights.
Flights from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg (British Airways), connecting with a flight to Cape Town (SAA). Collected a hire car, and stayed 5 nights at the very beautiful Soverby Guest Cottages in the countryside outside Stellenbosch.
Self drive onto Knysna (on the Garden Route). Stayed 4 nights at Knysna River Club and one night at Cloverleigh Guest House in Wilderness.
Returned our hire car at George airport and flew back to Johannesburg (SA Express), where we spent the night at Cape Elegance B&B in Bryanston (hire car again).
Back to the airport the next afternoon for our flight to Mauritius (Air Mauritius). We stayed for 6 nights in a self catering apartment, Residence Mo ti Paradis, in Troux aux Biches. (No hire car here – used taxis and local buses to get around).
Flew back to Johannesburg (SAA) for our final night, once again staying at Cape Elegance B&B in Bryanston (hire car again).
Direct flight the next day Johannesburg – Sydney (operated by Qantas, only 10 hours, BUT unfortunately the worst flight we have ever undertaken!)
We booked our return flights from Sydney to Johannesburg through our local travel agent as early as possible, which secured us good prices. As we seemed to be moving around such a lot, we booked a large part of the local travel with Selftours (http://www.selftours.co.za/). They came up with some great ideas of places to stay, booked most of our accommodation and other flights and all our car hire, and were generally very helpful. The only exceptions to this were: (1) we booked the Drakensburg accommodation – we had planned to stay at Cathedral Peak Hotel, but there was a rate rise between quoting and confirmation which we did not feel made it value for money any longer. Carina at Selftours did try to work with us to secure other accommodation, which was getting tricky as it was over Christmas, but eventually we “found” Didima and booked that ourselves. (2) We initially planned to spend the last week in Zanzibar, but time kept marching on and we found nobody had yet released prices for 2009 accommodation in Zanzibar. This is what Carina told us, and was backed up by our own research. After much deliberation and research we decided to spend our last 6 days in Mauritius – much closer and much more cost effective. Our Australian travel agent got us a good airfare George – JHB – Mauritius – JHB, and we booked an apartment directly with the owner over the internet. (3) We booked all our Johannesburg accommodation ourselves – we did not want to spend much on hotels for what we considered “transit stops” and spent a lot more time researching our options here, and finally just booked them ourselves.
Selftours emailed our car hire vouchers and a copy of our itinerary to us before departure. When we collected our first hire car at Johannesburg airport, we were given all our Selftours documentation, including vouchers, maps and airline “tickets”. Generally everything went very smoothly.

JOHANNESBURG AIRPORT HOTEL
For our first night, we wanted somewhere clean and comfortable to stay, not too far from Johannesburg Airport, and not too expensive (we thought the airport hotels were all rather costly). We chose the Courtyard Hotel Eastgate, http://www.citylodge.co.za/cy2.htm , about a 15 minute drive from the airport. Close to some large shopping centres, we anticipated it would be easy to get dinner nearby, and also a good location to pick up some groceries the following morning before heading to the mountains. We had 2 nicely furnished, comfortable studio apartments side by side. The idea was we would split our sleeping arrangements so that one adult and one teenager shared a studio apartment – after all, this was Johannesburg, and we had heard such dreadful stories about security! Really, there was no need at all - the complex was gated and patrolled all night, and we did not feel at all unsafe. There was no restaurant on site for dinner - I think they ran a bus to a local shopping centre which had plenty of eating establishments. It was also possible to order Woolworths (think UK style Marks and Spencers) frozen meals through reception, which one could heat in the microwave in the apartment. We, however, were so tired, that a quick cup of tea was all we needed before heading for bed.
We all fell soundly asleep (for 6 or so hours) and then sadly, jetlag kicked in! We were all ready to party in the small hours of the morning and no matter how hard we tried, sleep just would not come. At about 5am we congregated in one apartment, made some tea and watched the sun rise. We hung around until about 7am and dashed into the breakfast room as soon as it opened. The staff were very friendly, and R90 per person gave us a very nice English breakfast. After breakfast we decided there was no point hanging around for the local shops to open (it was Sunday, so a later than normal opening time), so we headed off for the Drakensberg Mountains.

THE ROAD TRIP: JOHANNESBURG TO DRAKENSBERG
We had been warned by well meaning souls to be very careful driving in South Africa – very bad roads and even worse drivers. After locking all our car doors, we cautiously headed down the N3 freeway to Harrismith before going over the Oliviershoek Pass to the mountains (The trip took us about 4.5 hours driving time). Coming from Australia, driving on the left hand side of the road was no problems. (Remembering to always lock our car doors was much more difficult!) We found the freeway to be in excellent condition, but kept a wary eye for animals that sometimes graze on the verges of the road and pedestrians that cross the freeway at will. We found the locals often exceeded the speed limits (sometimes at alarming paces), although there was a lot of evidence of speed trapping. We noticed a reasonable number of cars without number plates – we understand that is because it is considerably cheaper to be fined for not having a number plate than it is for speeding, and without a number plate speed cameras cannot catch you! (Oh, such logic!) We also found we had to be especially careful of the minibus taxis. They seem to stop absolutely anywhere to pick up passengers – they simply put on their emergency flashers and screech to a halt anywhere (and I don’t mean anywhere suitable). Then, once passengers are loaded / unloaded, they take off again, often without a backward glance to check oncoming traffic (remember – we are talking freeways here!). We also saw many instances of minbus taxis driving in the emergency lane, passing cars in the slow lane doing 120km/h). When we collected our hire car I was reading a newspaper article pasted up at the Budget depot. It said that in a 3 month period 40000 unlicensed drivers had been stopped in Cape Town and 20000 unlicensed cars. The article said that the problem was much worse in Johannesburg, and some of the worst offenders were the minibus taxis. So, all said and done, driving was not bad, but we definitely kept our wits about us at all times!
At Harrismith we stopped at a Shop-Rite to stock up on supplies as we were staying in self catering accommodation at Didima. Stopping at Harrismith we had our first exposure to car park security attendants. I don’t know that we ever fully got the “etiquette” of how the system works, but almost all car parks in South Africa have security “guards” who wear fluorescent vests to identify them. I understand they are not paid to work there, but survive entirely off tips from drivers. They watch your car while you shop, and you rest easy that everything will still be there when you get back. We tended to pay them when we arrived (pre-payment), but we noticed other people paying them after the event (I guess if their car was still there undamaged). We tended to pay them R2 at a time (someone suggested 50c – R1), although one day we had a Toyota Avanza which had no boot cover, and we had ALL our luggage on display in the car. That day we paid the fellow R10 – and all was well. Any South Africans reading this - please tell us how much is the expected payment to car park attendants. I must confess, I never got used to paying the car park security – it just never felt right (probably because I was never sure what was appropriate).
At Harrismith we left the Freeway and travelled over the Oliviershoek Pass to Bergville and then on to Didima. This section of the road had a fair amount of potholes, and while a lot of work was being done to repair them, sadly in places they seemed to be breaking out as fast as they were being repaired. The potholes are random and could do your car a fair bit of damage if you hit them at speed, so vigilance is important. (A friend of ours had hired a car in Durban and wrote off an entire wheel on his first day when he hit a pothole, so we were warned). We managed this risk by having the front seat passenger also scanning the road for potholes – a kind of second pair of eyes for the driver. (I felt a bit like Hyacinth Bucket on the old BBC series Keeping Up Appearances, saying “Mind the cow dear!”, “Mind the pothole dear!”). The scenery when we left Harrismith became very interesting. It became more mountainous and little huts and villages dotted the route. The closer we came to our destination, the more beautiful the views!

DIDIMA
Our five nights in the Drakensberg were spent at Didima (http://www.places.co.za/html/8903.html). We loved the setting and found the accommodation to be very nice. Certainly we would like to visit there again. We had two inter-leading self catering apartments which essentially meant we had a full bungalow to ourselves. The bungalows were well spaced and private from all others. Ours was near the front facing over a valley to the mountains. We self catered for most of our stay, eating almost all our meals out the front of our bungalow – barbeques several evenings were very relaxing. The tables provided were rather small, but the view more than made up for any shortcomings! My only complaint about the self-catering was that we were supplied with very few utensils suitable for cooking a meal for four. I found it was rather a juggling act, but as the weather was hot we ate lots of salads. On Christmas night we enjoyed a lovely Christmas Buffet in the restaurant, listening to a host of foreign languages at the different dinner tables. Christmas dinner was very cheap – it cost us $800 for the four of us, including drinks.
The curio shop at Didima also sold some basic supplies like bread and milk, but not too much else in the grocery line, so it was just as well we came well stocked from Harrismith. The closest reasonable size shop was the Spar in Bergville.
Our plan for the Drakensberg had been twofold – as much rest and sleeping as we wanted, and some nice day hiking. Unfortunately the hiking did not really happen as a couple of weeks before leaving Sydney Daughter #1 tore the cartilage in her left knee. The doctor’s prognosis was that without surgery she was limited to walking on flat, even surfaces – no hiking, no horse riding, and no operation until after all this flying was over! This was especially sad as she had studied the Drakensberg in geography at school a few years back, and this was her special chosen destination. However, having said that, the weather was really quite hot while we were there, and any hiking would have meant some early starts in the cool of the day, which would have been contrary to the objective of as much sleep and rest as we wanted. However, there was no point in crying over spilt milk, so we just planned different activities.
I must say that we took so many pictures of the stunningly spectacular mountains – many of the best photos taken from just outside our bungalow. We saw them at sunrise, at sunset, in the mist, in fine weather, and perhaps most memorably, in some absolutely awesome thunderstorms! Words cannot describe how beautiful or how scary they can look in a thunderstorm (nor how hard it is to capture this on camera). We were enthralled by the account of a fellow visitor who said they had done a 3 day hike which involved spending a night in a cave up the mountain ...... and spending the night of the awesome thunderstorm up there. He said he had never been so scared in his life and did not manage to get a wink of sleep. I could only imagine!
As walking up mountains was out of the question, and our car not a 4 wheel drive, we took a guided drive up Mike’s Pass one day – our family and a couple from Germany. Mike’s Pass is situated just behind Didima and gave us some amazing views back down the valley (and some amazing sunburn!) Dad and Daughter #2 did a little walking up there, while Daughter #1 and I relaxed on rocks and benches, feeling somewhat like we could have been in Sound of Music territory. We would have loved to have gone up Sani’s Pass and into Lesotho, but that was just too much further south in the mountains to be viable – perhaps next time.
One day we drove a little further south in the mountains to the Champagne Castle area. We spent some of our honeymoon at Champagne Castle Hotel many years ago and thought it would be nice to have morning tea back at the hotel. Sadly, the hotel is not accessible to anyone except guests staying there, and the gate guard would not let us past the front gate. However, driving on the road past the resort, I realised it is now a big, modern, international facility, and absolutely nothing like the country hotel we stayed at some 20 years ago. Instead we went back into the valley and had tea at a newly opened roadside tearoom. The proprietor was delightful and was very eager to ring his friend, the General Manager at Champagne Castle, so that we could go back down memory lane, but I decided that memories are sometimes even more beautiful than current reality and we enjoyed his hospitality instead. Unfortunately most of this day saw this part of the mountains under cloud, so the girls were unable to compare this part of the mountain to where we were staying.
On Christmas Eve we drove up to Royal Natal National Park for the day, further north in the Drakensberg mountains. Daughter #2 was desperate to see the famous photo of the amphitheatre with the Tugela River in the foreground. The weather was beautiful and it was a really lovely day. Dad and Daughter #2 did a bit of walking, while Daughter #1 and I found some comfortable rocks under bushes on the river bank – we dangled our feet in the chilly water, enjoyed the magnificent amphitheatre in the background and had some special mother- daughter time! After a lovely picnic on the banks of a little local dam, we headed back south on a more minor road along the edges of Woodstock Dam. We passed very many little communities all along the way.
En-route home we remembered that the following day was Christmas. We had pretty much “cancelled” Christmas this year – our family present being our holiday to Africa – so it had not been much in our minds. I decided that since we were in the restaurant for dinner we should find the Spa shop in Bergville and get some supplies for a nice brunch. We drove into Bergville at about 3pm on Christmas Eve ...... definitely not a good move! There were thousands of people everywhere – every foot path, in the road between bumper to bumper cars .... absolutely everywhere. Cars were barely moving as pedestrians were in the road, and minibus taxis were definitely adding to the chaos. I did not really feel scared – there was a large, visible police presence – but I did feel decidedly uncomfortable. We were the only white faces anywhere to be seen, and we were just so scared that we were going to bump someone walking on the road as we tried to crawl out of town. Very quickly any plans for a nice Christmas brunch evaporated as we tried to get out of town. The next minute we saw all pedestrians ducking down low – a swarm of bees chose this moment to come through town. It left as quickly as it came though. When we reached an intersection, my dear husband decided to turn left, whereupon I became a little “volatile” ... “Why turn left when the obvious road out of town is right?” (Of course, “obvious” is not the same to everyone). He drove down the quieter street and pulled over while we all calmed down and tried to work out which was the best way out of town. Almost immediately a pickup truck pulled up alongside and what I believe was probably a very kindly farmer wound down his window offering us help. We explained we had wanted some supplies but now we just wanted to be out of town and back on our way to Didima. He smiled and said “You definitely don’t want to come to town on Christmas Eve!” and gave directions for the easiest route out of town.
One morning at Didima we were having a slow start to the day. I had made tea for hubby and me to have in bed while our teenagers took their time waking up. I heard what I thought was one of the girls on the little kitchen enclosure – perhaps one of them would bring us a second cup of tea! The next minute Daughter # 1 shouted from her bed in the next room “MOM!! There is a baboon in the house!” Dear husband sat bolt upright in bed, at which a large baboon shot through the girls room and out of a side window – taking our brand new loaf of bread with him. That was meant to be toast for our breakfast! I peeped in next door and Daughter #1 was sitting in bed hugging her legs, with eyes like saucers, while Daughter #2 was still sleeping blissfully! We woke Daughter #2 and all of us went outside in our pyjamas to watch this master burglar rip open the packet and devour our breakfast. We then reluctantly shut our windows – it was really very warm and the breeze was lovely – but left what we thought were very small toilet windows open for a little fresh air. Within 10 minutes another baboon had entered through the toilet window and stole a sealed packet of dried pasta that was earmarked for dinner that night! He jumped on top of a wardrobe when my DH saw him. I opened the large sliding door wide for him to exit, but he raced back into the bathroom. I immediately ran over and slammed the bathroom door shut. While we were wondering whether he was now still in the bathroom or had left, we suddenly hear the toilet flush and some other noise! I gather as he jumped on the toilet to dash through the window his foot must have caught the flush button. Then as he dived through the window he hit his packet of noodles on the edge of the window frame, splitting the packet and sending half its contents onto the bathroom floor! What a mess – he also did some of his own toileting in his haste to get out! When we went outside he was sitting right on the highest point of our roof devouring the rest of the dried noodles. We then saw another baboon going through the open window of a nearby chalet – obviously they were hitting the camp in force! Certainly that was enough excitement for a day! We had one more entry by a baboon some days later – by this time we had all our food secured in cupboards and out of sight. DH found him opening green shopping bags looking for something inside! He took off pretty quickly when DH (who is over 6 ft tall) jumped up. Sadly, I think the future for baboons near Didima does not look good. In many parts of South Africa there are signs saying “If you feed the baboons you sign their death warrant as we will then have to shoot them”. Clearly these baboons had very little fear of humans and did not need to be fed – they just helped themselves. We reported the incident to the resort management, but they seemed very unconcerned. At other places where we encountered baboons, we always saw decisive action being taken to move them along. Certainly, Dear Daughter will always remember when the baboon came into her room!
Sadly, on Boxing Day our first part of the holiday was over and we left the mountains.
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Feb 11th, 2009, 06:28 PM
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i'm loving this, thanks for posting
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Feb 11th, 2009, 08:43 PM
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Excellent report. How envious am I of your 5 weeks trip.
Look forward to reading more.
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Feb 12th, 2009, 02:37 AM
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Great report. I am looking forward to hearing about the rest of your holiday.I get very excited just reading your report. Monkeys are very clever and quick when it comes to food. We are going again to S.A. in August 2009 and are counting the days till we leave. We are from Australia too and just love Africa. Where in Australia are you from?
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Feb 12th, 2009, 05:49 AM
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Great trip report so far.

There is a new nature special on TV here in the US that highlights the Drakensberg (anyone else see it?). It made me want to try hiking there.
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Feb 12th, 2009, 09:06 AM
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hi PRLCH,

loving your repotr so far.

you certainly got to use Jo'burg airport frequently - did they give you a discount?

regards, ann
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Feb 12th, 2009, 03:36 PM
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Thanks everyone for those kind words. I am enjoying writing the report and reliving the good times!

Twaffle, as you say 5 weeks is a good amount of time and we were very lucky to have it. DH usually manages to get 3 - 4 weeks holidays, but 5 is unusual. We never travel at Christmas (too hard for DH), but this year was an exception. Having those public holidays gave us that extra week!

Vicki1 - we are from Sydney (North Shore), but did have 5 years living in Melbourne some time back. Where are you from?

Annhig - why didn't I think of a frequent users discount for Johannesburg airport? We did get a new suitcase from SAA as they managed to break it a bit more each time we flew - does that count?

Well, now for the next part of the report.

KRUGER PARK – SATARA & LETABA CAMPS
Planning our transfers from the Drakensberg to Kruger Park had given us some headaches. Initially we were planning to drive to Durban (supposed to be much closer than Johannesburg) and fly from there to Nelspruit. But then SAA changed the flight times which either did not give us enough time to get to Durban (and we did not want to drive on Christmas Day), or the later flight did not give us enough time to get from the airport to our campsite before gate curfew. The only possibly option then became a flight from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit, but this meant we had to be at Johannesburg airport by about 11am. (We had one trip to Europe before where we had an “incident” on our last day getting to the airport, so I was nervous about not having enough time). However, by this stage all accommodation was booked and our options were somewhat limited. So, we had a very early start and headed off from Didima on Boxing Day at 5am – back over the Oliviershoek Pass and then the N3 freeway. I had posted on Fodors before we went to see if we would make it in time, so thanks to all those who gave us some advice. As it turned out, we had an excellent trip – no mishaps, no delays, no roadworks, and very light traffic heading north (although the traffic heading south on the freeway was really quite heavy). Our driving time to the airport was only 4 hours – although we added a stop for breakfast along the way – so we were at the airport with plenty of time to spare.
The flight to Hoedspruit was uneventful. As everyone was on the plane, we even left early! That has never happened to me before! The girls had commented on the trip to the Drakensberg, and continued to do so now - “Where are all the trees?” When I pointed out the “trees” to them they scoffed and said those were surely just “bushes”. (I must explain – the coastal strip of Australia where most people live is FULL of huge gum trees. My parents live 2 hours north of Sydney and the entire trip from our home to theirs is just trees. And our girls think this is normal. Not a wonder we are having such devastation at present with wild bush fires raging through large tracts of Southern Australia). In any event, trees in South Africa are often smaller, sometimes flat topped and more scattered than what our children are used to. For me on the other hand, there was this strong sense of “familiar” – this was the terrain I grew up in, and I loved the difference.
At Hoedspruit we collected our hire car, drove to the Orpen gate and entered the Kruger National Game Reserve at about 3pm. We took a leisurely drive from there to Satara via the S106 (the dirt road), getting to camp a little before 5pm. We had thought we would check in quickly and go out for another 45 minutes game driving, but checking in was a very slow process – but more about that later. Very shortly after entering the Kruger Park we saw a heard of the obligatory Impala grazing at the side of the road. Yes, I know they are as common as can be, but this was our daughters’ first sighting of wildlife, and they ARE very beautiful animals. Their colouring, those big Bambi-like eyes, and some impressive horns on the males, are a pretty sight. And of course, who doesn’t “ooh” and “aah” about babies of most species! By the time we reached Satara we had seen a couple of lovely sightings of large, single male elephants, buffalo, wildebeest, a cheetah lying under a tree with swishing tail and raised head keeping an eye on her spectators, baboons, a scrub hare, giraffe, zebra, and some of the small buck. Daughter #1 thought it was all a set up – she really did not expect to see so many animals so quickly nor so close up and clearly.
Our first 2 nights in the Kruger Park were spent at Satara Restcamp (http://www.krugerpark.co.za/Kruger_N...tara-camp.html). We spent the second two nights at Letaba Restcamp (http://www.krugerpark.co.za/Kruger_N...taba-camp.html). We had wanted to stay at Oliphants camp as DH loved it from a previous visit, but even booking 11 months in advance it was already fully booked.
Checking in at Satara was a painfully slow process. There was obviously a problem with our booking, but they were not willing to share the details with us. Initially they discussed putting us in bungalows 8 and 53, which did not make us happy, but there was some problem with bungalow 8, so finally it was decided we should have 48 and 53. While this doesn’t sound too far apart, they are in totally separate circles and not really near each other at all. We explained we had two teenage daughters who we wanted near us, and that we had requested adjoining bungalows at the time of booking, and that we had booked some 11 months in advance. We finally insisted on speaking to the manageress who conceded that Sanparks had mixed up our booking, but as there were no other free bungalows, there was nothing she could do to change it. She then seemed to notice something on her computer (never worked out what) and became very apologetic and offered us a complimentary game drive the following morning. We did not pursue the game drive (as that was not really the issue here), told ourselves “this is Africa so go with the flow”, and headed off to our rondavels. By the time we got there the manageress had come to find us, apologised again and brought us the paperwork for the complimentary game drive the following morning. As each rondavel had 2 single beds, Dad and one daughter slept in one rondavel, and I shared the second with our other daughter.
Both camps have a lovely feel about them, with rondavels (round thatch roofed huts) arranged in a series of circles with communal kitchens dotted around. Some rondavels have their own little kitchens on the verandas outside. Letaba is set above a river that one can sit and look down on, and bushbuck roam inside the camp between the bungalows (we enjoyed watching mother and baby trying to find scraps around the barbeques). There is something magical, and very much African about the Kruger Park. However, I do think that the camps are in need of some upgrades. We noticed there are a lot of renovations going on in various camps, but this seemed to be more in the line of swimming pools, new restaurants and administration buildings, and not so much for accommodation. The accommodation is basic and reasonably clean – I say reasonably as I thought the showers could do with a good scrub - we showered wearing a cheap pair of slip on shoes (we call them thongs, but I gather the British have a very different meaning for that word). Also our mattresses were very cheap foam, without an underblanket, and undersized sheets. (We always travel with our own pillows). While I really am not crazy about the accommodation in the Kruger Park, I would probably stay there again – it is the price one pays for amazing ambience and wildlife viewing. We had insisted on having self catering accommodation, but I would not bother next time – we did not use it. The lights on the verandas / kitchens is really too poor to prepare a meal by, and while the shops have a reasonable amount of groceries, I found it difficult to find enough suitable food to put a meal together. I noticed most of the locals had come well supplied, often with their own little freezers filled with meat and other supplies. If you don’t have your own kitchenette, you still have access to the communal kitchens which always have boiling water for tea. We ended up eating all our dinners in the Kruger Park at their cafeteria style restaurants. (The alternative was a set 3 course menu at the other restaurant, but as we were not getting a lot of exercise and the weather was hot and humid, we did not have the appetite for so much food.) For 4 nights the cafe style food was fine – we had things like hamburgers, pies, fish and chips, schnitzel, meal of the day etc. (All very cheap – less than R200 for dinner for 4, including an ice cream and drinks)
On our first morning at Satara we had yet another early start – we had to meet for the game drive at 3:45am!! Some people were getting quite agitated as the guide was late coming – but hey, we were in Africa – no point in grumbling! While it was nice to do the drive (we could all look for animals without someone focussing on the road), I would not race out to do it again. I thought it was really still too dark to see much, and while they did have spotlights, we certainly did not see anything really spectacular. Our most interesting sights were getting closer to 8am as we were heading back to camp. We saw a stream (too small for a river) absolutely teeming with hippos. I didn’t know that so many could live in such a small area. The guide said it was likely that some of them would be “moved on” in the near future by the more dominant hippos. We also saw two lionesses lying down a little way off the road. One of them was extremely thin and definitely not in good shape, while the other seemed to be much healthier and more alert. Our guide told us that lions suffer from bovine tuberculosis which they can get from buffalo, and this was the most likely cause of the poor state of health of the lioness. It was also suggested to me that this lion may be suffering from feline aids, but I do not know if this is much of a problem in the Kruger Park or not.
While the camp gates opened at 4:30am, we only left that early on one morning. After that we headed out at about 5am – 5:15am just as the sun was rising, enjoying another half an hour of beauty sleep. I guess it is all luck of the draw, but we saw our best sightings of animals a little later in the morning, and often between 3:30pm and 6:30pm in the evenings. For the 4 days we were in the Kruger Park we were blessed with some quite overcast weather, although luckily we did not have much rain. I was expecting it to be much hotter. Instead the heat was manageable, but it was much more humid than I had been expecting. I think the weather perhaps meant the animals were a little more active during the day than they would have been if it were exceedingly hot.
Staying at both Satara and Letaba was interesting as the vegetation is very different in the two regions. We saw many more animals around Satara than Letaba. In fact, Letaba was almost disappointing as we were so spoiled with animals around Satara. We became disappointed if we drove for an hour without seeing any animals – we joked they had all headed south for the denser bush. I think had we started at Letaba it would have been different – we would not have had anything to compare it with. However, having said that, while we did not see a lot of animals in the Letaba region, we did see some unusual sights.
Game viewing in the Kruger Park was a magical experience for us!! We saw a lot of animals (perhaps having 4 pairs of eyes scanning for animals helped), and mostly we did not stop if it was not a good, close-up sighting. An awful lot of what we saw was just us and the animal – no other spectators jostling for prime viewing positions. It is really quite a magical feeling – just you, the bush, and wild animals. We saw a total of 25 species of animals (all “firsts” carefully recorded by our daughters), and a vast array of birds of prey and other birds. Every day we saw something “new” that we had not seen before.
Our top 10 animal highlights are listed. (1) A pair of lions walked beside our car and crossed the road - a good 8 minutes watching them - and we were the only car there! (2)Two very wary leopards carefully checked up on us before disappearing into the bush. (3) A baby elephant bumbled across the road behind its mother (right in front of our car) - very young and quite unsteady on its feet! (4) A rhino was protecting a patch of dust from baby wildebeest, chasing them whenever they curiously came near (we never quite worked out why). (5) A family of hyenas (2 adults and 3 pups) were right next to the road eating the leg of some sort of antelope. We could not work out what animal it was, but it was right next to the car - we had our windows open, and the sound of those jaws crunching through thick bone was incredible! (6) Two civet cats which seemed to be "moving house" - one of them carrying what I think was a "kitten / cub" in its mouth. (7) A huge herd of elephants on the banks of a river near Oliphants Restcamp. (8) Some very active hippos grunting and yawning, making quite a noise at dusk one evening. (9) A hippopotamus out of water heading out for its nightly feed. (10) A giraffe lying down – an unusual sight. And of course, being summer we saw quite a lot of young animals.
We tended to head out early each morning and at about 8am we would stop for breakfast. One morning this was a cooked breakfast at the restaurant at Mopani, but our favourite was the Timbavati picnic spot where you could alight from your car and have breakfast. For R15 we hired a gas baebeque and cooked a bush breakfast of eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms .... There was boiling water available for tea or coffee, and a sink to wash up dishes afterwards. (We always travel with our own cutlery and plastic plates). After breakfast we often kept driving until 10 or 11am when we headed back to camp. From then until about 3 or 3:30pm we would rest, read, write postcards, swim or sit near the river in Letaba watching the odd animal on the river bank below. The camps also had a variety of birds, squirrels, bush buck and vervet monkeys which provided entertainment. Around 3ish we headed out for our afternoon game viewing, returning to camp just before gate closures at 6:30pm. After dinner we would crash, ready for another early start the next morning!
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Feb 12th, 2009, 04:32 PM
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Fun to read about Kruger. We have been there twice and going back in Sept. In Hoedspruit, your hire car was from Avis, or?

Our game drive schedule was much like yours. Out early, drive, breakfast at another camp, drive, lunch at another camp, back to our hut for a couple of hours then back out until the gate closed. Dinner at our camp, we did no cooking. I agree the huts/bungalows could use some refreshing but for $80 per night for 2 people we can't complain too much.

You didn't mention the long Oliphant bridge over the Oliphant River where you can park and get out and walk along the bridge. One of our favorite spots for elephant watching. Speaking of eles, great isn't it to be on a dirt road, only vehicle and surrounded by 100 ele breeding herd. Or driving slowly alone down a dirt road and have a giraffe pop out of the bushes and meander across the road in front of you. Or being surrounded by a herd of zebra and buffalo. We have not been as lucky as you seeing cats. Maybe next time!!!

Anyway, many thanks for your report and please continue, you write very well and fun read.

regards - tom
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Feb 13th, 2009, 03:37 PM
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Your report is a great read, I love the details. I know what you mean about how writing the report makes you relive the good (and not always so good) times! Your descriptions of Kruger remind me of our trips there - especially the bit about “this is Africa so go with the flow”, no good getting in a flap when things go a bit wrong. Looking forward to the next bit!
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Feb 14th, 2009, 08:23 PM
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Love your screen name Tokoloshe - wish I was so creative!

Tom, we did go over the Oliphants bridge but did not stop - the animals did not want to come out for us that day! You seem to have had better luck than us there.

A quick ammendment - my daughter just pointed out an error to me. Our Didima Christmas dinner cost us R800 NOT $800. OOPS .... more than a little mistake!!
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Feb 14th, 2009, 08:53 PM
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PRLCH - What rental/hire car company did you use out of Hoedspruit?

regards - tom
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Feb 15th, 2009, 03:17 AM
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Hi,
We are from the other side of the Harbour Bridge. Sutherland Shire. In August we are going to Kruger, Hluwhluwe,Elephant Plains,Satara, Lower Sabie, Shingwedzi, and also staying with friends that breed lions.We are counting the months till we go.(2 days off 6 months.) How excited we are. All we want to do is go back all the time. Cheers Vicki
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Feb 15th, 2009, 03:28 PM
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Sorry Tom - I forgot to anwer your question about car hire. We used Budget throughout. There is not actually a depot at Hoedspruit, but someone brought our car to us at the airport. All was fine EXCEPT - now we are getting all sorts of unknown charges coming through on our credit card. Everything was prepaid, including extra driver, so we were up for a R40 document fee only per rental. We cared for all cars (no damage) and returned them full each time. Now we have had charges of up to R490 coming through. Budget actually signed the car in each time, so it is all a little strange. We have asked Selftours to investigate, but so far no answers.

Vicki1 - your trip sounds wonderful - I am so envious. The anticipation and planning is half the fun as the trip always seems to fly past. Look forward to hearing about your travels when you get back.
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Feb 15th, 2009, 04:13 PM
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PRLCH - Thanks, we will be at Hoedspruit in Sept. We have used Avis twice before. Booked with them directly. They have an office at Hoedspruit air port (HDS). They have been good, no problems, no add on surprises. But I suspect there are others less $$$$. We like them because we live in USA and they are USA based.

FWIW, when we turn a car back in I take photos of the car from all angles to show no damage.

regards - thanks
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Feb 15th, 2009, 04:18 PM
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GOMO GOMO LODGE (TIMBAVATI)
On our last morning we packed the car and left at 5am for our last Kruger Park game drive. As we had particularly enjoyed the game viewing around Satara we headed back down the main road towards Satara, stopping for breakfast at Timbavati picnic area. We then exited at the Orpen gate and backtracked to Hoedspruit. Not far past the airport we came upon the worst bit of dirt road we drove in South Africa. It was wide and without potholes, BUT the corrugation jarred your entire body! We tried driving on the left, we tried driving on the right, we tried driving in the middle, but no matter where you drove, the road was horrid. Our only option was to drive very slowly until we reached the gates to the Timbavati Game Reserve. Upon arriving there we smiled at the sign saying “Dung beetles have right of way!”

We were surprised that we had to pay a daily conservation fee and a vehicle access fee entering the Timbavati Game Reserve. Our conservation fee to the Kruger Park had been prepaid along with our accommodation, and we assumed it would be the same here, but it wasn’t.

The guards on the gate directed us to Gomo Gomo down a nearby dirt road. Much smaller than any other roads we had travelled, we headed slowly along it. We had not gone 1km when the road went down a dip and into a badly washed away ditch. We stopped the car at the top, peered down and decided there was absolutely no way we would EVER get our small hire car through that. We reversed back a little and found a suitable spot to do a U-turn. The only problem there was a roll of wire lying in the way. I looked carefully all around me .... no signs of lion or anything else sinister .....I left clear instructions NOT to shut my door or drive off without me, and dashed out of the car to remove the offending wire. Before anyone could blink I was safely back in the car! As we drove the kilometre back to the gate, another small car came past with 4 adults in it. We slowed and wound down our windows to share our information about the road with them, but they must have thought we were looking at some animals and sailed straight past! Oh well, they would soon enough find out for themselves. When we got back to the gate, the gate guard kept telling us to go back down the road we had just returned from, and we kept telling him there was no way we were going that way. Just then a “bakkie” (Australian “ute” or American “pickup truck”) came along with some furniture in the back. They said they were going to Gomo Gomo and to follow them, they were sure we would get through and they would show us where to drive. We tried protesting, but they were confident. We agreed and followed them. The only thing was they were not going down the road we had been sent on. The gate guard started shouting to them to go the other way and they shouted back at him and continued down this new road. Within 10 or 15 minutes we suddenly found ourselves in front of a brick complex. No signs or anything, but we guessed we had arrived at Gomo Gomo – really quite easy!

Now back to that little car with 4 occupants that we tried to warn about the road ..... They ended up being our 4-wheel drive buddies for our 2 days at Gomo Gomo - a French family from Reunion, with only a little English. We mainly communicated through Daughter #1 who went to France on exchange last year and has a good command of the language. It transpired that they had the same directions as us which were the directions to the old Gomo Gomo Game Lodge. The lodge was actually moving that day. None of us knew this and I would say neither did the gate guards. They did get their car down that road – never quite worked out how – but they ended up driving around the Timbavati reserve for 3 hours looking for Gomo Gomo! I can only assume they followed signs to the old lodge. I must hasten to add that by the time we left Gomo Gomo two days later signs had been put up to direct one to the new Gomo Gomo.

As we walked through the front door of the lodge we found our photos being taken and being offered champagne. It turns out we were the very first guests to pass through the doors of the new lodge. The lodge did not actually shut down for its move, and a little later the guests from the old lodge arrived, having been transferred to the new lodge – I think they were meant to be the first guests, but we beat them by half an hour. Given that they were in moving mode, I think the lodge did a great job getting everything ready. There were small things like no rubbish bins in the rooms etc, but I think they made a great effort to have everything ready, and all the guests generally were very understanding.

Gomo Gomo Lodge (http://www.gomogomo.co.za/) was our home for 2 nights, and we enjoyed our stay very much. The accommodation was all brand new and lovely and all the staff were exceptionally friendly. Gomo Gomo was much cheaper than some of the other upmarket lodges we looked into, and I think it is great that there is something being offered between the Kruger Park end of the accommodation range and the absolute top end range. I wish Gomo Gomo well in their new home as I believe there is a definite market for them.

Our daily schedule at Gomo Gomo was something like 5am wake up call and 5:30am morning drive departure. We returned to camp at about 8:30am, depending on what animals we were seeing. Then breakfast. After breakfast they have morning walks, but when we were there they were cancelled. Lunch was served at about 2:30pm and we headed off on our evening drives at about 3:30pm. Returned at about 8:30pm (always dependant on what the animals were doing), in time for dinner. During our lodge time we often read under the trees in front of the dam, and our daughter enjoyed using the pool.

The highlights of the animal sightings at Gomo Gomo included 4 or 5 young (2 year old) lions lying on a dam wall waiting for Mom to return with their dinner. They were right next to our open Landover and we could have touched them if we had leaned out (obviously that would not have been a smart move however). We also saw a leopard and her cub (about 18 months old) that had caught an impala for dinner. The impala was pregnant and they had removed the foetus (quite large and I would have thought very near to being born). The leopard was carefully licking the baby impala with her rough tongue to remove the hair before having it for dinner. We also tracked a rhino one day for a very long way before we found it. When we did it put on a good show for us, wallowing in the dam and cooling off. One other sight that was amazing was a bird. I don’t remember the type of bird, but it starts with this loud call, reaching a crescendo, and then the male goes into a headlong freefall to impress the female. I thought it was going to kill itself, but at the last minute it swooped out of the fall. I understand they are not always that lucky and some do kill themselves in the process. We also saw a most entertaining young bull elephant. He was stomping and trumpeting in a very enthusiastic manner – ever so cute, and probably not impressed that nobody seemed to be scared off by his antics.

All in all, Gomo Gomo was an enjoyable interlude. I think as we had had such a good time animal viewing in Kruger Park, it did not have that “first time amazing something” to it, but it came with much better accommodation and very helpful and friendly staff. On our last day at Gomo Gomo (New Year’s Day) we headed off after breakfast for the drive to Nelspruit airport, and were lucky enough to get an earlier flight to Johannseburg than scheduled, making the rest of our day much more manageable.
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Feb 15th, 2009, 09:43 PM
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Re your car hire additional charges. Did you have a full petrol tank when you returned the car? That's usually the only reason for later charges, other than traffic fines and collision damage. Although R490 is probably a full tank's worth!
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Feb 16th, 2009, 05:54 AM
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Describing the abundant wildlife as a "setup" is quite a good descrption. The wonderful thing is that it is not a setup.

Your top 10s have variety and abundance. I love baby hyenas, nice find.

I agree with the attractiveness of impala, despite how common they are.

What a wonderful family trip.
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Feb 16th, 2009, 04:34 PM
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ArthurSA - you are right, it does sound like a tank of petrol, but we always returned the car full, AND got the returning officer to sign the car back in after checking it. Just a frustrating nuisance to follow up now! We are hoping that Selftours will help with that.

Atravelynn - you are perfectly correct - it was a fantastic family holiday. Even though Daughter #1 is finishing school this year, we hope to have a few more ahead of us. "Making memories" with the family is what I really enjoy!

Now for the next installment:

JOHANNESBURG
Really there is not much to say about the next 2 days in Johannesburg. It was special family time spent mostly at my brother’s home, around the pool, having braais (barbeques), and catching up with family (including my 98 year old grandmother, and a nephew we had never met!) We also took a trip down memory lane to the old family home, schools etc. We stayed at Random Harvest Country Cottages in Muldersdrift (http://www.random-harvest-cottages.co.za/ ) -very nicely appointed self contained accommodation well located to where my family live.

VICTORIA FALLS - ZIMBABWE
Next it was off to the Victoria Falls for 2 nights. This was a unanimous highlight of the trip!!! On previous trips to Africa we have always left off the Victoria Falls as too expensive, too out of the way, too difficult to arrange ..... This time we decided “now or never”. Well, I can definitely say I hope to visit the falls again one day – they were beautiful!

Our flight was delayed by a couple of hours due to technical difficulties – a little frustrating but nothing major. We had not obtained visas before leaving Australia as they were cheaper to buy upon arrival. Buying the visas at the airport was easy enough – we had the correct US$ denominations. The process was a little slow, but as many of us had the same transfer arranged, we all had to wait for all passengers to be processed before heading off to our hotel, so speed of immigration was not an issue.

We stayed at The Kingdom Hotel http://www.africansunhotels.com/Inde...Victoria_Falls . This had been recommended to us by Carina at Selftours. I was a little in two minds about staying at The Kingdom Hotel – nobody on Fodors seemed to recommend this hotel, but I need not have worried. It is a large complex, but was nowhere near full when we stayed there. The rooms were very comfortable, the swimming pools lovely (and well used as it was very hot when we were there), and the staff very helpful. When one considers what a tough job it must be trying to run a tourist establishment in such difficult conditions, the staff were remarkably good humoured and helpful. We would not hesitate to stay at the Kingdom Hotel again. There is a man made stream running through the complex, with signs saying something like “Children should be accompanied at all times. There may be baby crocodiles in the river”. We never saw any signs of anything but baboons within the hotel grounds, and they were very quickly being helped on their way by staff.

The hotel was very well located to the falls. We could not actually see the falls from the hotel, but we certainly could hear them thundering in the background. We did not see the falls on the day that we arrived due to the late arrival of our flight. The fall close at 5pm (if I remember correctly), and the entrance fee to the falls was US$80 for the 4 of us, so we did not want to rush it. Instead we headed off directly after breakfast the next morning. There is a back gate from the Kingdom Hotel which leads directly down to the falls. A security guard accompanied us from the gate to the falls and arranged what time he would come back to meet us. We are not really sure why we needed a security guard - perhaps to control the enthusiasm of the couple of hawkers trying to sell their carvings along the way, or perhaps to keep a lookout for wild animals. It is a national park, and we did see baboons and warthogs, but nothing more dangerous. At the entrance to the falls there is a sign showing the entrance fees. It reads: Non-Zimbabweans US$20, ZAR200, 15 pounds, 20 Euros. Zimbabwean Residents ZW 8 000 000 000. It is a printed sign, but the ZW rate is in chalk so that it can easily be changed. It is really very, very sad!

The falls can only be described as amazing – no words can describe what we saw! There was enough water to be very impressive, but not that much that all we could see was spray and mist. We took our own spray jackets, and while we did get wet, we did not get drenched. There is a pathway along the falls with plenty of great views along the way – and we had it largely to ourselves due to the lack of tourists. I can only say to people considering going – if your budget allows it, then do it!

After the falls we walked along to look at the bridge crossing between Zimbabwe and Zambia. We did not cross as we only had single entry visas to Zimbabwe. We also walked down to the gorge where we watched people bungy jumping and doing flying foxes across the gorge etc.

Before going to Zimbabwe we considered flying over the falls, but decided that US$500 for the 4 of us was too costly. Our travel budget does not generally extend to things like that. However, after seeing the falls, we all agreed it was a once in a lifetime experience, and the girls said they would finance their own way with their savings. That was fine in theory, but not possible in reality. We had only gone to Zimbabwe with US$500 in cash, some South African Rands and about AUS$200. We had paid US$120 for entry visas, US$80 to go into the falls, and were getting mixed opinions each time we asked as to whether we needed US$120 for departure taxes. As we didn’t want to be stuck in Zimbabwe, we had to assume departure taxes would be required – although as it turned out we didn’t have to pay any. Also, we had to finance lunch and dinner while we were there. The problem was we had insufficient foreign currency for four of us. I suggested that my husband do the trip with the girls, but they all stood firm that either we all did it or none of us did it. Credit cards were not accepted, and neither was local currency (ATMs would only spit out local currency). So, sadly we did not get to fly over the falls. But next time ..... it is a definite plan! Instead we headed down to the falls again on our last day for another visit. Just as amazing the second time around!

We had been told by friends before we left how desperate the Zimbabweans are and that they will often try to trade their curios with you for clothing. My poor husband found everyone loved his leather shoes (nothing flash I may add!) Everywhere he went people were saying “We like your shoes, what can I give you for them?” Poor hubby kept replying “I like my shoes as well ... and I want to keep them!” We joked that he was going to be leaving Zimbabwe barefoot if he was not careful. At the markets there was one fellow with long braids who was desperately trying to trade something for my daughter’s hair elastic. At first she thought she must have something very special in her hair, but no, just a plain, brown hair elastic. Eventually she was nearly in tears at the sadness of the situation and said to me “Mom, I am not going to trade them for a hair elastic – they can HAVE the hair elastic!” We had taken about half a suitcase of second hand girls’ clothes to Zimbabwe with us – our daughters had gone through their wardrobes before we left and taken out everything they had outgrown. DH traded some of this, along with US$20 for beautiful, large (1.2m) carved giraffe that I had fallen in love with. The entire family kept trying to persuade me to choose something smaller by I just loved this one. The rest of the clothes he just went down and shared around on our last day. The clothing was all gratefully accepted, but next time we would take men’s clothing – that seemed to be what they really wanted – especially shoes! The security guard was telling me that they can get anything they need by just walking into Zambia, BUT they need foreign currency and that is very hard to come by. Like so many people around the world, we would love to help the plight of the Zimbabweans, but we just don’t know how!

All too quickly our time in Zimbabwe was over. Already we are dreaming of going back again – perhaps next time with some game viewing in either Zimbabwe or Zambia.
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Feb 18th, 2009, 04:35 PM
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CAPE TOWN / WINELANDS

From Victoria Falls we took the afternoon flight to Johannesburg and connected to a flight to Cape Town. By the time we arrived in Cape Town it was already dark. We collected our hire car and headed off towards Stellenbosch to our accommodation. Our home for the next 5 nights was Soverby Guest House (http://www.soverby.co.za/home.html) where we stayed in Cottage No. 3 right next to the farm dam. Soverby is located in the countryside on a working wine farm, with the most beautiful mountains in the background. It is an absolutely stunning location and was definitely the best accommodation we stayed in throughout the entire trip. Our cottage comprised an open plan lounge, dining and kitchen – very comfortably and tastefully equipped. A bathroom and master bedroom led off that, and upstairs, connected by a narrow spiral staircase, was a loft bedroom with 2 single beds. We also had a private patio outside, well equipped for barbeques, where we ate most of our meals when we were in. For those familiar with the area, we were located quite close to The Spier Estate.

It was a short trip from Soverby to the local shopping mall for supplies, and not very far from Stellenbosch. We drove into Cape Town on several occasions, and if my memory serves me correctly it was an easy 45 minute trip to Cape Town (I thought a little less than that, but DH says not).

On our first full day we set off to explore some of the wineland areas. We firstly visited Stellenbosch, and then made our way across to Franschhoek. By the time we got to Franschhoek it was lunch time and all the little sidewalk cafes were absolutely teeming with tourists enjoying the great weather and stunning setting. We noticed the road going up to the hills behind Franschhoek and decided the view from there must be worthwhile – which it was! Then, I wanted to know what was on the other side of the mountains, so we continued on. We eventually ended up travelling a round trip via Villiersdorp and Worcester before going home again. The scenery was stunning, and it was interesting to see that the other side of the mountains was more fruit growing that wine area. I really enjoyed the day, although it may have been a bit much scenery for our youngest.

On another day we mistakenly believed we were going to Robben Island (oops – wrong day – all days are the same when you are on holiday). We had hoped to start the day with an early trip up Table Mountain, but the “table cloth” was on and the clouds were very heavy. Instead we travelled to Hout Bay and did a boat tour out to the penguins. Whilst overcast, it was still a lovely setting. As Chapman’s Peak drive was closed we then headed via Groot Constantia where we enjoyed the ambience and architecture, as well as a very interesting cellar tour / tasting session. After lunch we cut across to Muizenberg. By this time the weather had cleared and it was very hot. I think every man in the Cape Province was on the road from Muizenberg to Simonstown – we absolutely crawled down there at a snail’s pace for a very long time. People were walking faster than we could drive, and there did not seem to be an alternate route. Eventually we ended up at Cape Point for some spectacular views. We decided that we definitely did not want to go back via Simonstown due to the traffic, so we returned on the other side of the peninsula via Kommetijie, before cutting across Cape Town’s peak hour traffic and back to Soverby.

I must say at this point, that we all agreed that the Capetonians were absolutely the worst drivers we encountered in South Africa. They had little regard for road rules or common courtesy, and we were not surprised to see at least 2 road accidents every day when we were in this region.
On another day we parked our car near the Waterfront for the day and did most of our activities from there (parking a mere R10 for the day). Explored the Waterfront – browsing shops and getting Daughter #2s camera “fixed” – she had “lost” all her Drakensberg photos, and now it seemed like her Kruger pictures too. Fortunately we found a very nice man in a camera shop who managed to recover many of her lost pictures. We had also been given a 15 minute complimentary helicopter flight over Cape Town with our Selftours booking, so we booked it for the afternoon. They said they could do it straight away, but as Table Mountain was still under some cloud I decided (wrongly so!) to delay the trip to the afternoon.

Then we headed off on the Robben Island trip. It had been impossible to book on line and we had therefore nearly decided not to go, but as it is very likely that Daughter #2 will study this period of South African history at school in the next year or two, we got Carina to book the trip for us. I found the trip to be extremely disappointing, and would definitely not recommend it to others. We took the boat over to the island which was simple enough. When we got there, we were herded onto buses “Come ! Come! Onto this bus! Still plenty of room inside!!” On we hopped and looked hopelessly around for seats. We found seats in three separate places – absolutely not possible to sit together as a family. The buses had “airline like” seats – very high backs – 2 on one side and 3 on the other. If you were not sitting next to a window, you had absolutely no chance of seeing anything! Never mind, it was just a mode of transport .... or so I thought. For the next 45 minutes we were taken around the island seeing absolutely nothing. The guide did not like to use the microphone, so hearing much was impossible. I politely put up my hand and said we could not hear anything, and the whole back of the bus voiced their agreement. He simply explained that to use the microphone the bus had to be running, and he did not like that. Eventually Daughter #2 (who we had especially done the trip for) had tears in her eyes from frustration. She wears 2 hearing aids and could hear absolutely nothing (not that those of us with perfect hearing could hear much more), and she could see nothing. From what we have read, Robben Island has a long and fascinating history, but the trip focussed on a very small part of that history. Our guide had spent 18 month on Robben Island, and I felt like I was being fed a heap of propaganda! Please don’t get me wrong here – I think the whole apartheid era is a blight on South Africa’s history, but I did feel that we were not getting “history”, but rather some personal agenda. After getting off the bus we had another guide who took us through the prison. His presentation appeared far more factually based and a totally different “tone” to that of the guide we had on the bus. In any event, after all that, we have bought Mandela’s book, The Long Walk to Freedom, to get another perspective on that part of South Africa’s history.

After getting back to the Waterfront, we headed off to do our helicopter flight. Sadly, all remaining flights had been cancelled for the day due to increasing winds, and they did not expect to fly again until Sunday – by which time we would have left Cape Town. With everyone feeling a little flat after a somewhat disappointing day, we thought we may try Table Mountain. We realised that if the helicopters were not flying, the cable car may not be running, but we thought we would try in any event. It turned out to be a great time to go up the mountain. The queues to go up the mountain were non-existent, and the views were superb. We had great views from the top, while at the same time having clouds swirling up towards the mountain from below. Hard to describe, but magical. Table Mountain lifted our spirits considerably, and then we headed off to Blouberg Strand to see the famous view of Table Mountain across the water. We enjoyed watching the sun set across the bay and the lights coming on in Cape Town. We then had dinner at Cafe Blouberg – sitting outside and watching this special view. It ended up being a special day after all!

On our last day here, we visited Paarl and its very attractive Afrikaans language monument. We also visited the Spier Estate to see its cheetahs. I found the dogs that they raise there to protect livestock against wild cheetahs to be even more interesting than the cheetahs themselves. Then we went on to Blaauwklippen Estate for a very enjoyable lunch under the trees. They were setting up for a wedding that afternoon, and our girls could only imagine such a special setting for a wedding one day.

Sadly, all good things come to an end, and our time here was all too quickly at an end.
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Feb 19th, 2009, 09:03 AM
  #20
 
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 219
As an expat South African who went to high school in Stellenbosch, I really appreciate this last segment! I was a boarder at High School Stellenbosch for two years and fondly remember walking into town past all the university buildings. We had a gorgeous view of the mountains from school and one year we almost were evacuated after a wild fire threatened to jump to our neighborhood.

Thanks for the memories!
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