27 May 2014

Mpumalanga, South Africa - 2014

A very lazy leopard having an afternoon siesta in Kriger Park, South Africa
South Africa has many gems, some hidden and some easily accessible - it's such a vast country with incredibly different landscapes and a mix of climates. Sometimes, the weather can be different just 10 minutes drive away. Or it can be the same for miles and miles.

We recently returned to Mpumalanga - a favourite province for both landscapes and wildlife.

This 2014 trip was more of an R&R vacation as the past summer season 2013/2014 has been so hectic at Bradclin Portfolio - www.bradclin.com so my thoughts were more on trying to relax away from the business that concentrating on writing a blog!

We chose to fly to Johannesburg and drive from the airport as the airfares direct from Cape Town to Nelspruit are rather expensive. However, this is the obvious choice if you have limited time.
To my mind the best parts of Mpumalanga are in the areas surrounding Nelspruit, White River, Sabie, Graskop, Pilgrim's Rest and Blyde River Canyon. The drive from Johannesburg has many e-tolls (car license number taken and account sent) and other tolls where cash or credit cards are accepted. It becomes quite an expensive journey with all the tolls on the N12 and N4 but the pay-off is a great road.

Kruger Park:
Most visitors to South Africa try to include a visit to Kruger Park in their itinerary. This vast National Park remains one of my favourite locations and there is just nothing to beat the sighting of a wild animal going about it's daily life. Please do remember that the game roam freely - you can drive for miles and see nothing on one day and get to see a vast variety of game on another day. It's perhaps best to stay at a private lodge or take an organised game drive if you have limited time.

The Lion Pride on a Hippo Carcass - not the best pic but this was fascinating to watch.

We first stayed at Ngwenya Lodge, 9 kms from the Crocodile Gate into Kruger Park. Our first drive into the Kruger Park brought many sightings throughout the day (a long 8 hours but it passes so quickly when you spot game!) A most unusual sighting was a lion kill of a hippo near a small waterhole/dam. My theory was that the hippo had lost its way as the pool of water was not large and did not seem to be "hippo" friendly. The lion pride was about 15 strong and they had obviously finished eating as most of them wandered off to seek some shade soon after we arrived at the site. The pride left 2 sentries to guard the carcass and although these 2 looked fast asleep, as soon as the vultures ventured closer, they sprang up and chased the birds away. It was a comical sight and I have never seen so many vultures together before. There must have been at least 30 - 40 birds, all sitting waiting very patiently for the lions to allow them to join in the feast! One bird would slowly venture towards the carcass, all the while keeping an eye on the "sleeping" lioness. The lions allowed them to reach a certain distance and then, BOOM, they would explode into action. Who needs movies, when this sort of scenario is playing itself out?

As with all great sightings, there are many vehicles around so it is only fair to move on after awhile and allow somebody else to get a closer look. I call it "Game Viewing Etiquette" - some people are just road hogs but most park enthusiasts will behave well.

Not the huge rhino that gave us heart failure! He was too fast for a photo!

Driving slowly along, peering out of our windows for game, we all nearly jumped out of our seats when a HUGE rhino exploded out of the bush to the left of us, screeched to a halt in the middle of the road, gave us the evil eye, and then took off like a bolt of lightning. The driver jammed on his brakes even though we were only doing about 30 km per hour and we all sat in silence, simply stunned by this huge beast that vanished as if it had been a ghostly sighting. Far too fast for a photo and just such an incredible experience.  My son, who worked in the Kruger for many years, had never seen such a large animal - it was simply awesome. Rhino poachers cannot have any morals or a conscience of any sort, to mutilate, maim and kill these magnificent beasts purely for their horns. Human nature is sometimes totally incomprehensible.

A lovely sighting at a bird hide, were a group of hippo frolicking in the river. Their huge bodies glisten from the water, their mouths open in wide yawns and their "chatter" is deep, serious and often sounds grumpy. Whilst they look so peaceful, just wallowing around, these animals are one of the most dangerous, accounting for many human deaths. So do not try and swim with the hippos - they are not very friendly!!

The day passed in a blur of animals sightings, changing scenery, wide open spaces or thick bush where one cannot spot anything, meandering rivers, lazy crocodiles and a breakfast stop at Lower Sabie. The restaurants at the Kruger Camps have been rather poor for many years now so it was bliss finding a brand new Mugg & Bean set-up at Lower Sabie - great service, good food, modern facilities and an all-round good experience. Apparently, all the camps are being revamped with either Mugg & Bean or Wimpy. Anything would be better than the oily toasted sandwich we had at Skukuza a few days later.

Nelspruit - Mbombela:
Nelspruit is a thriving town in the Lowveld and has a number of shopping centres, a great climate and enough restaurants to keep most people happy. We always enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the Lowveld Botanical Gardens, so we headed off one morning for a leisurely stroll amidst the trees.

Green is one of my favourite colours for relaxation and these gardens are pure green. Boasting a huge collection of trees on the Tree Walk, the signboards make for interesting reading as they give some history, local folklore and medicinal uses. The gardens were original started in 1969 with the official opening happening on 10/09/1971. A must walk is through the African Rain Forest on the Sappi Aerial Boardwalk which also connects to the Visitor Centre where you can break for something to eat at the Kuzuri Restaurant. The Nelspruit Cascade Falls are spectacular, cascading over the huge boulders in the Crocodile River - it's a great photo stop and the boardwalk takes you to many vantage spots. Tons of water from the Crocodile River cascades through a granite gorge to the pools below.

Crystal Springs Mountain Resort:
Our last week-end was spent at Crystal Springs Mountain Resort, high up on Robbers Pass, Pilgrims Rest. Now this is the place for some serious R&R! It's a very large resort with everything on tap.
Restaurant, shop, wood bundles, putt-putt, tennis, squash and a games room. The resort also has wild game and you can choose to drive in your own vehicle or take an organised game drive of about 3 hours. The ranger will give much information so this is certainly worth it. We chose to go in our own vehicle and were lucky to see many giraffe, warthogs, and buck. There are a number of hiking trails - perfect for that early morning exercise in brisk, fresh air! Take hiking sticks or collect these at Reception. I would recommend taking sticks as the hike we did was very stony so the sticks certainly assist with balancing. Being so high up, the nights were chilly so we loved the Jacuzzi and hot pool!
Best to book the Jacuzzi (30 mins) if you don't want to share! They also have a sauna and steam room. We found this a perfect way to end the day. Warmed up, we could head back to the unit to enjoy the evenings tipple in front of a roaring fire!

The Gorgeous Scenery in the Reserve at Crystal Mountain Springs

© Judelle Drake

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