11 June 2013

Mpumalanga Visit June 2013

God's Window

Mpumalanga in South Africa, is a great province to visit, offering a variety of scenery with the biggest bonus  being Kruger Park. We took an early morning flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg - how people can be so cheerful so early in the morning is beyond me. The airport was buzzing with many smiling travellers while all I could think of was the warm bed that I had just deserted. Kulula offers a good service between the two cities - just remember to have cash with you if you require a sandwich or drink as they do not accept credit cards or foreign currency.
Landing in Johannesburg, we headed off to find our car rental - they were unable to supply us with any maps - is this a sign of the times or were we just stuck with a stingy car hire company? First Car Rental perhaps should read Last Car Rental? Luckily, we had borrowed a GPS and this got us out of the airport without a hassle. If you take the incorrect turning out of  OR Tambo Airport, you may wander lost for hours!

The road east is rather boring and flat for us Capetonions so used to seeing our beloved Table Mountain. However, the scenery does improve as one gets deeper into Mpumalanga. Our first stop was Gunyatoo Trout Farm where we were given a spacious family log cabin. More peaceful surroundings would be hard to find with millions of stars visible at night - if you are brave enough to venture out in the chill night air. Saturday dawned clear and warm so we headed off to Sabie on the logging road (gravel) Brunch was enjoyed at the Smokeys Pub. This pub has a train as part of the building so one can choose to sit in the compartments or in the pub or outside in the sunshine. This pub is beautifully decorated with various oddments such as an old switchboard, a large live parrot who can drink out of a can and many funny signs. The menu is large, too large, as the food was very average. But a great place to visit. It was like a summer's day - wonderful after the cold Cape Town weather. There is a rather neglected Putt-Putt course below the restaurant which we decided to try and it turned out to be great fun in the sun. It would be nice if the owners kept the course in better condition though as each person is charged R12.00.

Sunday was another brilliant, warm day and fly-fishing was the first item on the lazy day agenda. So off we all trotted to the dam which is very pretty in the morning light. Sadly though, despite their best efforts, not a single bite from a trout! A big brunch, a lively board game, some beers, then being taken for a walk by the farm dogs, all added up to a very relaxing day. Fly-Fishing featured on the late afternoon menu but James was the only one to catch a brief glimpse of a fish which then vanished rapidly into the depths again!
Trying to get out of bed on Monday morning was sheer torture as the temperature had plummeted so drastically. We said a good-bye to our host Debbie and set off on the pot-holed road to White River. Apparently, this road was fixed fairly recently but the first heavy rains washed out all the holes again! One wonders how this could happen if the road has been properly fixed in the first place? The road is used by the many trucks carrying timber so the holes will just get worse and the next repair is only scheduled in 7 years time. Seems like a policy that is very flawed - one would think that ongoing road repairs are a matter of road safety?
We enjoyed a dinner at Gum Treez in White River as they were lucky enough to have power! The electricity suddenly went out at approx 18.00 hrs and cast much of White River into darkness. A good meal was enjoyed by all.
Today we watched the Scottish Rugby team doing their practice warm-ups and training  before setting off the Jane Goodall Chimp Sanctuary outside of Nelspruit. Robert assisted us on arrival - he hails from Swaziland which is still ruled by the Swazi King. Government officials are elected by the people whilst the Prime Minister is elected by the King. Robert says that Swazi's are good-natured people and it remains a safe country. His wife and family live in Swaziland whist he has explored various work  options in South Africa, mainly in the hotel industry although he did a 6 month stint in the mines just for the experience which he did not enjoy! Our guide, Jason, took us to 2 enclosures where the chimps live. One does not enter the enclosures which are surrounded by electric wires. The chimps total 34 based in 3 camps. The oldest chimp,who looks like a wizened old man, is 67 and the youngest is 4 months. Contraceptives are placed in the female chimps so that breeding does not take place but this was an accident obviously! At first it was thought that the chimp had a tumour - this myth was dispelled by a scan at Medi-Clinic where it was ascertained that the chimp was pregnant!!! The mother and baby are in separate quarters not accessible to the public. As South Africa is not hot enough for chimps, they are housed inside at night. Sleeping either in hammocks or on beds of straw, they also have heaters in their quarters to keep the chill off during the winter nights. Breeding is not an option as the chimps cannot be released into the wild anywhere in South Africa. All have been rescued, some tales are very distressing. Chimps are sold as pets or for "bush" meat so illegal poaching continues in African countries. Two chimps were kept in a cage designed for an African Grey parrot.
Jane Goodall is now 79 and will most probably no longer visit the sanctuary after her 2013 trip. One hopes that her vision will live on and that these chimps will continue to live out their lives in peace. They certainly look well and comfortable - the only one to "perform" kept taking a long run-up, clutching small stones in his hand which he threw at the onlookers and then he clapped heartily as if to say " I gotcha!" Whist all the other chimps wandered off when the food supply stopped, he sat sucking his thumb with a forlorn look on his face as if to say " please come back and play with me"
Day in Kruger National Park

For me an early start! Breakfast at Zanna's just opposite Casterbridge was a good start to the morning. A stunning cat kept asking for food but we resisted as it is VERY well fed! Zanna's is open from 07.00 week-days and from 08.00 week-ends so it a good spot to stop for breakfast on the way to either Kruger or Numbi gate. We chose to go in via Kruger gate - this took about an hour from White River due to road works and crazy drivers who have no regard for white lines or blind rises. Bad driving in Mpumalanga seems the order of the day. Perhaps time for the cops to start fining and patrolling?
Entrance to the park was quick and easy and we headed off  in brilliant sunshine. We took the H4-1 towards Sabie and were lucky to spot a huge buffalo, giraffe in a group of  about 9, zebra, a large the herd of elephants with a massive bull elephant and babies. Waterbuck, a stunning speciman of male kudu, many impala, and about 6 hippo sunning themselves on the sandy banks of the Sabie. We cut across the S21 headed back towards Numbi Gate and spotted another male elephant quietly browsing. There were apparently 2 lion lying in the grass but we were too low down in our tiny rental car so could not see them. A quick toilet stop at Numbi gate and then out of the park after a glorious day.
The road from Numbi is full of pot holes - beware! It seems that road maintenance is not high on the list of priorities here and the roads have deteriorated substantially since we last visited about 2 years ago. One has to wonder what the municipality does with their funds as it obviously does not go towards road maintenance! However, after this bad stetch, it was plain sailing to White River - much quicker than going via Kruger Gate.
We both needed our medication so headed to Nelspruit Clicks for our scripts. I have to say full marks to this pharmacy - the chaps were extremely helpful and very friendly. It is such a pleasure dealing with people who are quite happy to go the extra mile.

Day Drive Sabie - Graskop - God's Window - Bourke's Potholes - Blyde River Canyon
Another glorious day in Mpumalanga and a drive to view some of the famous sites along the Panorama Route was called for. So we set off towards Sabie  where we encountered an organised burn of the grasses next to the road. Oh my gosh, the smoke was so think we could not see a thing ahead and when I looked out of my window, I saw flames jumping right next to my door. Freaky and dangerous - the guys should have stopped us until the smoke cleared as our car could have caught alight. One realises the enormous value of controlled fire breaks and grass burns in this area as it is forested for miles and miles. However, perhaps they need to be a teeny bit more cautious letting cars through in zero visibilty?
This area is surrounded by plantations, all with different names. One climbs up and up to Sabie which lies in a valley. The road then carries on to Graskop where you can stop for a hike or walk to the many waterfalls in the area. Sabie Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are in the Sabie area. Mac-Mac is a stunning area and one can swim in the pools or take a walk along the river. Lisbon Falls, Berlin Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Lone Creek Falls are all in this area - choose one or do them all if you enough time in the Sabie/Graskop region. Graskop has numerous restaurants, many of them appear to serve pancakes! I am not sure why this is so but do know that Harries Pancake's has been around for ages in Graskop - perhaps everybody else has copied them or maybe the locals just love pancakes?
God's Window was our next stop. The views from here are simply wonderful, even though the skies are often hazy. The smoke from the controlled burns did not help the visibility in this area. Curio sellers abound here so you shop for souvenirs to take home or small mementoes of your holiday.
Our next stop was to a view point before Bourke's Potholes where we chanced upon a bush pub and restaurant set on the banks of the Treur River. Called Pot Luck Restaurant it's quaint and different. The food is cooked on open fires and an old coal-fired stove. Rustic and basic, they cater for weddings (???) in true bush style and enjoy the patronage of many overseas visitors to the region. The "View Point" sign is, of course, the catch - one drives down this road and over a very unstable looking bridge to come to a parking area where the pub is situated. Good marketing of a "View Point" !! As they sell mainly quarts of beer, we abstained as we still had much driving to do. It was also not time for a large 300gr steak! However, certainly worth a look and if you are hungry or thristy, why not? The toilets are set a little way back as they are "long drops" - I have not used one of these since my very early childhood days in our holiday bungalow in Mossel Bay. I was always so terrified of falling down this smelly hole or worse, some horrid spider biting me on the bum! I decided that the pit stop could wait!
Bourke's Potholes are an incredible feat of nature's swirling pebbles and gushing water from the Treur and Blyde Rivers. Huge holes, so smooth they look like black chocolate coating on rocks! Deep and dark it is very difficult to capture the immense cavities on camera. One can walk up to the river for awhile - crystal clear water tumbling over stones as it has done for centuries. A truly dramatic spot.
Time was running out but we drove another 15 km or so to the first viewpoint over the Blyde River canyon - so very beautiful, this is something one just has to gaze at in awe. A few days in the canyon area would be ideal as there is much scenery to enjoy in this majestic 20 km long canyon. Hikes, white river rafting, abseiling, boat trips, or a circular drive will show you the immense beauty of this region.
A great day out in incredible scenery and wonderful sunshine - the roads are very good with very few potholes! large trucks carrying timer are a common sight but most pull over to allow one to pass. The road back down to White River from Sabie is downhill all the way - hope your brakes are in good condition!
Chinese food finished off the evening - great personal service from owner, Sue who was eager for us to try her new creations. And all was delicious so we wish her well in her "new" venture in White River.
And we leave White River for Malelane....
Another glorious sunny day (I do so love my T-Shirts and shorts apparel!!) as we check out of Ingenyama to head off to Malelane.
This drive is again so different as the farms lining the roads are fertile with oranges, mielies, sugar cane and other crops. The orange trees look stunning with their golden crop just waiting to be picked. Malelane is a bustling town with many beautiful homes and plenty of accomodation. We are based on the banks of the Crocodile River and animal watching is right on our doorstep.
A herd of 5 elephants were grazing just below the Kruger Park fence, the hippos keep talking in grunts to each other, we spied a white goat whose days may well be numbered as he/she is in the Kruger Park and just waiting to become lion food. Clinton & Virginia left Maputo at 17.30 and it took them 5.5 hrs to reach Malelane! Total gridlock leaving Maputo. One wonders when the powers that be will build an alternative route out of Maputo?
Our Self-Catering cottage ran out of gas on Saturday morning and we had to wait for over 2 hours for a replacement cylinder which made us very late with breakfast. We eventually left for Mbombela Stadium for the double header of rugby. Samoa against Italy was a great game with Samoa walking away with the game. We went down to get some food - queues! The 2nd game was between South Africa and Scotland. Having seen Scotland practising hard all week at the hotel where we were staying, I found myself shouting for their team until their Number 5 caused a ruckus and was sent off with a yellow card. This seemed to fire up the South African team who then went on to win the match. A great stadium and a great atmosphere!
The drive back to Malelane was fine, just very dark and with many trucks still on the road between Maputo and Nelspruit.
Sunday - Father's Day and the queue for the Malelane Kruger Park gate was about 3 km long so we turned round, bought breakfast goodies from the Super Spar and stayed in our SC unit in the sunshine. Unfortunately, no animals showed themselves to us today. Board games in the sun were fun, with the occasional Fish Eagle call to make us look in vain for more animals! 
Day in Kruger via Malelane Gate
Success today - no queue to get into the park - yeah!!!
Blue skies, fluffy white clouds, quiet roads and ANIMALS!!! We spent from 09.00 until 17.00 in the park and enjoyed a really successful day of animal spotting with a break at Lower Sabie Camp for lunch. Hippo's, giraffe, elephant, warthogs, rhino (most probably the only ones left in the park), vervet monkeys, baboons, kudu, wildebeest, zebra, impala, water buck, buffalo (a huge herd) various birds - unfortunately, no lions or leopards. Kruger Park is such a special place and can be re-visited countless times. Animals are fascinating to watch - we saw zebra scratching themselves on tree branches for ages. they turned around and did the massage from the other side as well - very funny to watch. And free! No massage parlour required. A giraffe was also looking very amorous and kept sniffing the female. He looked set to get lucky when, unfortunately, another giraffe appeared on the scene and the female decided that 3 was not conducive to any romantic play.  The little baby vervet monkeys were drinking at the river bed - very daintily and so cute. The rhinos were grazing very peacefully and it is such a shame that perverted people have to destroy these magnificent, peaceful grazers. Suddenly, something spooked them and they scurried off into the bush. Poachers are a huge problem in Kruger Park and one hopes the rangers will eventually win the battle before the species is extinct. Elephants are always an awesome sight and watching the herds drink, browse and then form a straight line back into the dense bush, is just something special. Giraffe are inquisitive animals and look at one with their beautiful eyes - the impala also have these liquid eyes - so incredibly stunning. Impala are fairly common so one tends to ignore them as "traffic" after awhile - however, they are truly beautiful buck and worth watching.
The herd of buffalo was a special find - large beasts, not quite as ugly as wildebeest, but most impressive. Wildebeest -only their mothers can love them?
The zebra, wildebeest, impala are often spotted together - for protection maybe?
All in all, a simply stunning day with the most magnificent sunset to escort us out of the park.
One of the "must do's" in South Africa - however, animals are not very visible in rain and sometimes a day or more is required as the park is huge.
Do be patient, keep your eyes peeled at all times and you are sure to spot game. It's an exciting destination - as locals we love our country and hope you will too!

Sadly, our short break has come to and end and we are headed back to Cape Town. The weather throughout our stay was superb - hot and sunny during the day with cold nights. No rain at all during the trip except for a very short shower one night when staying near Sabie.
Until next time....

1 comment:

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