South Africa Road Trip

23 Feb 2015

After an over night flight to Johannesburg we picked up our little rental car heading for the first stop on our South Africa road trip. We were on a 6 night self drive, taking in the Drakensburg Escarpment, Blyde River Canyon, a stay in a private game reserve and the Kruger National Park.

It was a 4 hour drive to our first destination and armed with beef biltong we hit the road. Driving through Dullstroom and Orgistad and stopping at an old Voortrekker cemetery in the middle of nowhere we finally got to Hannah Game Lodge. As we drove through the gates onto a gravel road we caught sight of our first African animals, a group of warthogs. Slow progress was made up to the lodge as we stopped for every animal we saw - impala, kudu, sable, ostrich, we even stopped to watch a millipede cross the road!

african-animals

Hannah Game Lodge was the perfect place to ease us in to our adventure and whet our appetite for what was to come. With a much a much needed cold drink we watched the African sun go down over the grassland.

After a night's sleep we were up early for our first full day. Our first stop was Pilgrim's Rest, a perfectly preserved gold mining town. Leaving our car in the safe hands of a 'parking assistant' (a small tip will do the job) we explored the little old houses and museums. Back on the road we headed to Mac Mac Falls, a beautiful 50 metre drop waterfall. On the way there we started to climb up into the mountains and the clouds! Surrounded by giant pines we could barely see 5 metres in front of us. Visions of the car breaking down and road trip horror movies flashed through our minds. Thankfully we emerged safely through the other side of the thick mountain fog and made it to the falls in one piece.

We stopped in Graskop to refuel and a bite to eat at Harrie's Pancakes, but couldn't leave without stocking up on more biltong. From Graskop we made our way to God's Window in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, which is meant to be a stunning view of the lowvelds and valley below. Leading up to it we didn't fancy our chances as the thick clouds rolled across the road in front of us.

Sure enough as we reached God's Window all we could see was God's clouds... After trying to negotiate a refund on our entry fee we drove onto Bourke's Luck Potholes, large circular holes sculpted into the rocks by centuries of flowing water.

bourkes-luck-potholes

The last stop of the day on the scenic Panorama Route was the Blyde River Canyon itself and a view of the Three Rondavels. The little known canyon is the third largest in the world and not really on the tourist trail, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. There are many hiking trails to explore but we contented ourselves to looking out at stunning view with a Sparletta cream soda.

view-of-three-rondavels

The next day we left Hannah Game Lodge and the Drakensburg Escarpment and headed for Moditlo River Lodge, a private game lodge on the edges of the Kruger National Park and home to the Big Five. A beautiful little place in an unfenced reserve so that animals can wonder freely. Our first game drive that evening and the excitement mounted as the first big spot were two male cheetahs lazing under a tree. More animals followed – zebras, giraffes, an aardvark, jackals and an abundance of offspring. After a sundowner our guide got word of a sighting of a male lion and we drove as fast as the gravel road could take us. Out of the darkness there he appeared, fat and sleepy. 15 minutes we must have watched him in awe which was quite enough for the lion who let out gut rumbling roar that shook the seat of our pants. Gasps and nervous laughter were our feable responses. We left him to it to wait for the lionesses to bring his dinner and we headed back to camp for ours.

sighting-of-a-male-lion

Three more game drives at Moditlo and we saw many more animals including hippos, more cheetahs and three lionesses with a kill. But the other big five eluded us, save for their footprints and dung. Perhaps they were hiding in the dense bush or just not willing to come out to play. So we were keen to take our little car and explore the Kruger on our own.

We reached the Kruger National Park about midday and entered through the Orpen Gate. A Jurassic Park moment! The speed limit is 40kph on gravel roads and after about an hour of seeing only a handful of antelope we were starting to lose heart and thought that it was not going to be our day. We took a chance on a detour and out of nowhere we spotted three big rhinos grazing about 6 metres away from us. It's hard to describe the first time you see one of the big five when you're on your own in a tin can of car with no guide to protect you! Our hearts were in our mouths as one looked like he was getting ready to charge the car, after managing to get a couple of photos we took off with much more hope about the day ahead. We certainly were not disappointed. Not long after we spotted our first bull elephant in the distance. With no other cars about we stopped and waited as he made his way in our direction. As he got closer we looked out of the other window and saw one, two, three… no a whole herd of about 100 buffalo coming over a ridge heading straight for us. Not knowing what way to look it wasn't long before the herd had surrounded the car and all we could do was wait and not panic!

sighting-of-buffalo

The animals came thick and fast after that. After our run in with the buffalo we saw a cheeky looking hyena with a leg of some animal hanging out of his mouth. Ahead of that we spotted a car pulled up (always a good sign). Pulling up behind the car, almost unbelievably and in broad daylight, we watched an elusive leopard appear from a bush, casually saunter across the road then disappear into the thicket. Of all the animals South Africa boasts, we really didn't expect to see a leopard. It was a magical moment.

On top of the world we arrived at Satara Rest Camp for a much needed toilet break and a night's stay in one of their rondavels. Each hut has its own braai and we dutifully cooked up a meat feast and celebrated a good day's safari with a few beers.

safari-with-a-few-beers

An early start and another 8 hours on the road we encountered endless wildlife – herds of elephants and their young, hyenas, crocodiles, rhinos, buffalos, zebra, giraffes, mongoose even a honey badger. We honestly couldn't have wished for more, we saw everything we hoped we would on this trip. It's hard work and requires patience and you will no doubt end up with a stiff neck, but the sight of your first big animal is worth the wait. We left the Kruger with a heavy heart and stayed overnight in Stille Woning B&B in White River for a final bit of luxury before a long drive back to Jo'burg wide eyed and satisfied.