Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

200608 1 South Africa Mozambique

TUESDAY 1 AUGUST – Up and away by 6.15am heading towards Skukuza.  There’s a beautiful red sky as the sun rises up into the clouds.  Rangers have already driven through the park and moved the overnight droppings from the road so any deposits indicate a recent visitor.  At Sunset Pool we see many hippos including one wading into the water after a night of foraging on land.  We see nothing for ages then 1 giraffe followed by a troop of baboons ambling along the road.  They come right past the van and the youngsters are very funny to watch.  Pause at the Nkuhlu Rest Stop and speak to people who were a couple of minutes behind us and missed the baboons but saw a leopard.  Before reaching Skukuza campsite we see another troop of baboons and literally hundreds of impala.  We explore the biggest camp in Kruger.  It’s like a small village with Post Office, shops, restaurant, library, and 2 swimming pools.  Our lunchtime curry is followed by the usual siesta.  Around 3pm we head off for our afternoon game drive.  Again attempt the dirt tracks but they are heavily corrugated and make for very slow going.  We see a couple of very large birds with red beaks and necks (ground hornbill), some large male nyala, buffalo and zebra.  Detour up to the Stevenson-Hamilton memorial where there are interesting large granite boulders with trees growing on them.  Back on the tar road we are racing back to camp but back up when I spot something in the road, an African rock python about 2 feet long.  Drive up to Mathekenyane lookout for fine views over the plains.  Lock up is 6pm in August and we just make it giving us time for a sandwich before going to the amphitheatre to watch the 6.30pm movie about the wildlife in Botswana where we hope to be next year. 



WEDNESDAY 2 AUGUST – Heading out of camp we soon spot an elephant and a hippo’s bum as he leaves a river!  There’s a major traffic jam with cars parked 3 a breast, we have no choice but to pull up behind.  We see nothing for ages and then a large female lion emerges from the bush ahead of us with a half eaten impala in its mouth.  It wanders over in our direction, about 15 metres away from us, before turning round and returning to its original spot.   We can hear it chomping away on the carcass then it gets up and walks our way again before turning and walking off into the bush complete with carcass.  Absolutely amazing.  The cars disperse and we continue ahead dismissing a vervet monkey with little more than a glance.  Reach the Tsokwane Rest Stop at 9.30am and stop for coffee.  Leaving there we encounter a herd of elephant that cross the road in front of us.  We pull forward to watch them at the side of the road only to find that half the herd are still coming and we are blocking their path.  They trumpet loudly to clear us out of the way and luckily Millie moves off smoothly.  On the last half of our journey we see zebra, blue wildebeest (aka gnu), waterbuck, buffalo, a hippo with lots of serrated hinged terrapin on it’s back, baboon and a giraffe.  So all in all a good morning’s game drive, our longest so far taking us almost 6 hours to cover 93km!  Arrive at Satara camp and chat to Dutch couple Caes and Jan-Tina from Maastrict, whom were in front row parking for the lion viewing.  The campsite is poor situated on the perimeter of the Rest camp with dust blowing in the fierce wind.  The gate guard shows us a couple of “know throw” trees where the tiny Scops owl sits on a branch.  Chat to Caes and Jan-Tina and arrange to go on a game drive in their car this afternoon then have them back for supper.  Set out at 3.30pm on the S100, notorious for good game sightings.  Progress is slow as we see lots of unusual birds; have our path crossed by a herd of wildebeest, troop of baboon, herd of elephant lots of antelope.  It takes over1 ½ hours to cover 19km and we realise we are pushing it to get back for the 6pm gate closure.  Caes tries to put his foot down a bit but we are hampered when an elephant walks into the ford in front of us and decides to stop and drink.  All the way back we have to slow down or stop for wildlife and arrive at 6.10pm to find the gates closed.  A guard lets us in, notes the vehicle number and says if we do it again we will be fined.  Back in Millie I cook pasta for us all and we linger chatting until after 10pm.



THURSDAY 3 AUGUST – Feel a bit weary after all our game drives, it’s very tiring staring into the bushes and for Steve constantly stopping and backing up, so we give ourselves a day off and lie in until 8.30am.  At reception we try to alter our booking and add Saturday night.  We are polite and courteous but without even checking the computer the girl tells us all camps are full on Saturday.  She tells us we must return to this reception in the morning after 7am to check in for tomorrow night’s stay at Balule!  This is totally inconvenient as we are leaving at 6am to drive up there so ask what we can do.  She is adamant there is no other way than for us to return but we speak to another receptionist who immediately does us an advance check in.  Another classic example of the difficulties we encounter, especially in Kruger where the computer booking system and majority of staff are unhelpful.  The comments books are full of criticisms of the staff and also the game drives and walks that people have gone on.  We’d planned to do some but won’t bother now.  It’s still windy but we potter on site doing a few jobs through the day. 



FRIDAY 4 AUGUST – With our batteries recharged we are away early.  Spot a real live “Zebra Crossing” then about 1km of animal droppings in the road directing us to a huge herd of buffalo near the river.  See 3 more of the endangered ground hornbill birds and think a dwarf mongoose runs across in front of us.  Lots of giraffe on the dirt road leading us to Balule where the guard gives us a very friendly welcome as he opens the gates.  This is a small camp with an ablutions block, kitchen area but no electricity or other facilities.  Pick a nice quiet spot by the boundary fence and chat to a few fellow campers including ex Poms John & Ann who are also on their way to Mozambique but via the 4wd drive track from Kruger.  At 3pm we drive up to Olifants where there are stunning views over the Olifant River. Binoculars reveal lions lying on a rock and a crocodile in a sandy river islet.  Return to Balule before 6pm lock in, rather like been put back in prison for the night.  Long after 6pm 3 mini buses arrive on camp and pull up in the small gap between our tented neighbours and us.  About 20 youngsters pile out and make as if to pitch tents in the small area directly in front of us.  Our neighbours are also feeling invaded and along with Steve speak to the group leader.  He assures us they are only here for one night, there is nowhere else for them to go and they will be quiet.  We are not amused.  Having introduced ourselves our neighbours Ian & Catherine come over to chat and we learn they are teachers from Jersey but have houses in New Zealand and have just bought one near here.  They visit Kruger about 3 times a year and spend from 6am – 6pm out spotting which along with a bit of luck explains their excellent results.  We pass comment on the number of tents trying to fit on the site between us and they suggest we might like to share their booked site at Letaba tomorrow night, after all if a site can accommodate 20 people in individual tents then surely an extra motorhome won’t even get noticed!  A late visit to the oil lantern lit toilet reveals a huge empty area near the camp entrance where the campers could have gone.  3 spotted hyena patrol the camp perimeter fence and along with their occasional howling I am disturbed by a number of people snoring in the tents at our side, not happy. 



SATURDAY 5 AUGUST – It’s been a cold night and I keep my tracksuit on for our 6am start.  Double back down the main road to where leopard and lion were spotted yesterday but just see the usual giraffe, zebra, antelope and vultures.  Turn around at the dam and head back north pausing on the Olifants Bridge to see more crocodile.  At one of the other river lookouts we see hippo then a number of elephant before arriving at Letaba late morning.   It’s a pleasant camp and we soon park up and get a load of washing on.  Check out the area and find a nice restaurant overlooking the river and rather fancy the R100 (£8) evening menu with many courses.  There are two swimming pools but they are both very cold.  The elephant museum is excellent and answers many of our questions.  Bushbuck and vervet monkeys roam the camping area.  Meet up with Ian & Catherine and pay the R36 (£3) per person extra charge for sharing their campsite – even though we are camped about 50m apart!  Together we head to the riverside restaurant where Steve has the full menu and I have the half menu, main course, dessert and cheese and biscuits for R50 (£4). The food is not outstanding but it’s a lovely setting and we have interesting company.



SUNDAY 6 AUGUST – We’ve noticed that the rough dirt roads have completely worn one of our 4 rear tyres.  There’s a service garage nearby and we set out but barely make it out of the campsite gate before we hear a strange noise.  Steve hops out of the van and reports that one of the other tyres has rubber falling off it, I encourage him to get back in the van quickly as he really should not have got out.  Only yesterday there was report of an ambulance being called to Orpen Gate area where rangers had to shoot an elephant presumably because it had attacked someone.  Hobble to the garage where we get the two spare tyres changed over, R51 (£4) labour charge.  Very little to see on the 50km out towards Phalaborwa Gate, fish eagle, termite mounds, elephant and steenbok.  The town of Phalaborwa is very near the park exit and we do a big shop at Pick N Pay before checking onto Lantana Lodge campsite.  Steve watches the grand prix on the TV in the bar whilst I use the Internet, R30 (£2.40) hour.  When we come to turn the van lights on at night we have no power from electric or battery.  Whilst fiddling around fellow camper Lionel comes over to help.  Trace it to a loose connection in the electric cable and another to the battery – think the dirt roads in Kruger must have bounced them off.  End up sitting chatting to Lionel and his wife Elmara.


R80 (£6.40)


MONDAY 7 AUGUST – The temporary silicone seal that Hervey made is leaking so we head off to a mechanic.  Steve has been given directions over the phone and these include turning right at the glass foot into Three Fort.  No one seems to know what or where the “glass foot” is but after much driving around we finally find the garage by turning right at “Glass Fit” into “Trichart” – yes we are having something of an accent understanding problem!  Whilst they set about making a new seal I walk over to the nearby shopping centre and discover a huge supermarket called Shop Rite that seem to be cheaper than any I have used before.  The new seal seems to stop the oil leak and when we don’t want a receipt they only charge R100 (£9) even with over 2 hours labour.  Drive off to Tzaneen to visit Diana.  We met her on the bus from Johannesburg and she invited us to visit them at their macadamia nut farm.  It’s a pleasant journey with the small Drakensburg Mountains on our left and the road leading us into a lush valley where fruit, nuts and tea are grown.  Diana introduces us to her husband Andrew and explains they are not working today as it was payday on Friday and the staff all have the following Monday off enabling them to go home and visit family.  There are 4 houses on their farm and one belongs to their son James, his wife Ally and their boys Angus 2 and Murray 8 months.  James has spent a lot of time travelling including Europe in an old Bedford campervan that he abandoned at the roadside in Italy when it died.  Hope Millie is going to serve us rather better than that!  Their other son Simon has just gone to work in China for 6 months.  We are given our own en-suite room in the house and made very welcome.  There seem to be dogs everywhere, Diana has 4, Harry, Winston, Julie and Emma and James has at least another 4.  There is also a goose and a magnificent looking cockerel that roams around.  The unseasonably hot day gives way to a bitterly cold night.



TUESDAY 8 AUGUST – Follow Andrew back to Tzaneen where he knows a good mechanic called Frances.  Before leaving for Mozambique we want a fuel filter fitting and a final check over on the engine.  Andrew takes me into town to pick up some things from specialist shops and when we return the van is ready, 1 hour’s labour R150 (£12).  There’s one thing for sure, Millie is being very thoroughly tested and should be in perfect shape by the time we sell it.  I invite Diana and Andrew to join us for supper in the van and they are very impressed by the whole set up.



WEDNESDAY 9 AUGUST- Diana leaves early to play bridge with some girls in town.  They start at 7.30am after the children have been dropped at school and play until they have to be collected at 1pm.  Meanwhile I have been invited to make use of the sewing room and given a bundle of spare fabric.  The sewing room is almost like a workshop with 2 sewing machines, 2 over lockers and shelves full of material.  I trim a tablecloth to fit, make a couple more plus sleeves to stop the glasses and china rattling when we go on bumpy roads.  All in all a very productive day.  In the evening we are invited across to son James and his wife Ally’s for supper and enjoy a Thai curry.



THURSDAY 10 AUGUST – We all head in to town with Andrew who drops Diana and I off to do some shopping and takes Steve to his nut factory.  I need to buy some curtain rails and other fittings to finish the curtains for the van.  On the journey back we return to the factory to pick up the empty nut sacks and half a dozen workers who sit on top of the bags in the back of the truck.  Andrew takes us the scenic route back above the valley and this involves bumpy dusty roads but as Diana says, to the guys in the back even a 3rd class ride is better than a 1st class walk!  Spend the afternoon completing the fitting of the new curtains and tiebacks.  In the evening Diana and Andrew have another couple coming round to play bridge but have arranged for us to borrow Andrews car to drive into Tzaneen to visit Angie and Julie and play canasta.  Angie is an elderly lady and Julie her daughter and they make us very welcome.  Julie has some work to finish so the first game is a 3 with Angie.  We’ve played many times in different countries and found rule variation but this time it’s like a different game with almost nothing the same.  After eating supper we play again as a 4 and do a little better. 



FRIDAY 11 AUGUST – When Andrew looks into the van to see the new curtains he tells me that the family have been talking about the van and would like first refusal on it when we sell.  We’ve already had 2 other people showing serious interest but it’s good to know and we will keep it in mind.  Leave at 8.30am and drive along the valley below the majestic Drakensberg ranges.  We have to climb up and over the Abel Erasmus Pass at 1242m and are pleasantly surprised to find Millie does it all with only a drop from 5th to 4th gear.  The scenery is superb and we cross many plateaus with small communities and lots of goats and cows roaming around.  We take the scenic route and stop at Aventura Blydepoort a sort of holiday village with camping area.  It’s quite a posh resort but we get a big discount as motorhome club members and find a nice grassy stand on the road towards the dam.  There are lots of walking tracks in the area and in the afternoon we do the Kadishi-Tufa Falls, lots of scrambling down rocks but very pretty waterfalls and a good view of the “Drie Rondavels” rock formations from the lower lookout.  On site there is a mini golf course and at R5 (40p) per person we can’t resist. 


R40pp (£3.20)


SATURDAY 12 AUGUST – Set out at 8.20am to combine the Leopard, Guinea Fowl and Loerie trails.  After a half an hour walk through the holiday village we arrive at the Upper Lookout with fine views over the “Drie Rondavels”.  Set out on the leopard trail making our way down towards the gorge but up and down over lots of rock formations.  We are rewarded with fine views of the dam, lake and the river winding its way through the canyon.  The Guinea-Fowl trail takes us down even further to the Kadishi River and a nice waterfall with a cold swimming hole below.  Across the river we join the Loerie Trail and this is really challenging.  Following the course of the river with the trail along many narrow ledges and with lots of scrambles up the side of waterfalls.  Cross the river numerous times and often need to take our shoes off (or in Steve’s case get his shoes wet – twice).  Were I not with Steve there are many points where I would not have been able to climb up the rocks, as they were too high.  The waterfalls and scenery are superb and make it all worthwhile.  Arrive back at the campsite after 4 hours and immediately take our shoes off and grab a drink.   In the evening a huge coach pulls up towing a trailer.  From Germany it’s a hotel with the trailer comprising sleeping compartments on 3 levels, surprisingly the people on the coach are all elderly. 



SUNDAY 13 AUGUST – Make an early start to get ahead of the tourists.  We are so early that we are the only visitors to Bourke’s Lucky Potholes, R20 (£1.60) pp admission.  We walk out to 3 bridges that span the gorge giving superb views of the strangely eroded rocks below.   As the main road continues we end up in fog and can see nothing of the “Wonderview” lookout at all.  “Gods Window” is another view area and we arrive around 8.30am and brew up whilst waiting for the mist to clear a bit. There is no one else around and we are unsure about leaving the van unattended so I head off alone.  A short way along the track you reach “God’s Window”, or so the sign says, as there is absolutely no view at all through the mist!  I continue up 100 steps and through a very interesting rain forest to the summit of the walk but still the mist lingers.  Return to the van and wait until 10.30am with no change.  The road drops down and the mist clears before we reach Graskop.  Check onto the Municipal Caravan Park at the top of the main street, handy for Steve to walk to the pub and watch the Liverpool match later.  We’ve not been on site long when there is a power cut that affects the whole town and we learn that this often happens.  Wander down the main street to check out the famous “Harrie’s Pancake House”.  It’s packed out so we settle on “The Silver Spoon” next door, having checked they are serving throughout the power cut.  My mint ice cream and caramel choice is OK but Steve’s savoury cheese and bacon one is cold and has to be rejected, maybe we should have gone to Harrie’s.  There’s time to go back to the van to get Steve some dinner before he goes off to the pub.  He returns cold but jubilant and very glad of the heater in the van.


R40pp (£3.20) – 10% motorhome club discount


MONDAY 14 AUGUST – Drive out to the recommended Pilgrim’s Rest.  Millie rises to the challenge of the 1650m Bonnet Pass.  Pilgrims Rest is an old gold mining town and now a virtual living museum with lots of old shops displaying traditional wares.  Next stop is the town of Sabie where we get our first empty gas bottle refilled for R65 (£5.20).  Our Internet usage reveals the tragic news that our Hospitality Club Host Harry, from Pietermaritzburg, died in a plane crash last weekend.  We phone to pass on our condolences and learn that he was in his own 2-seater plane and had just taken off from the airfield above their farm and must have had problems as he crashed into the cane fields below the farm.  We are very shocked and saddened as although we only knew him for 10 days he was such a nice guy.  Arrive in Nelspruit and find that none of the backpackers have space for a motorhome.  Visit the Mozambique embassy to apply for our visa’s but find the visa section is only open from 9am – 12.00am.  However the girl gives, or rather sells for R2 (16p), us the application form, and says we can pay her the R85 (£6.80) each and leave the passports with her for collection tomorrow at noon.  This is half the price of buying it at the border so we settle for that.  After all mountainous driving we have concerns about the brakes as they are pulling to the left and end up at the recommended Nelspruit Brake and Clutch garage who say they can’t do it.  Reluctantly check onto the Safubi River Lodge caravan park as it is the most expensive to date.  Ask owner George about a garage for brakes and he recommends the one we went to, doesn’t believe they can’t help so phones up and finds out they were too busy to see us today but will see us tomorrow at 7.30am!  Now why on earth didn’t they say that? 


R120 (£9.60)


TUESDAY 15 AUGUST – Arrive at the garage at 7.30am but it’s after 8am before they take the wheels off and decide the brakes need skimming and new pads.  I go shopping and Steve hangs around whilst they take them away to be done.  They still aren’t back and it’s almost 12.00 when we need to collect the passports so a member of staff runs us over to the embassy.  The girl is just doing them, ours are on the top of the pile, and says it will be a few minutes but this drags on and we see she is finishing another pile first before dealing with ours.  Explain we have a car waiting and eventually get her to move on to ours but she then has to visit a couple of other officers to get them stamped up.  It’s over half an hour before what should have been a 2-minute job is complete.  The van is finished just after 1pm R500 (£40) but the brakes squeak when we do a test run.  They fiddle around a bit and assure us they are OK.  Head off towards the border but after 20km they are making lots of noise and the wheels are hot so we return.  They spend more time fiddling around and finaly send us away at closing time.  The brakes no longer pull to the left but they still squeak when used.  Return to the caravan park where Steve gets stuck into the wine big time.  It’s so frustrating to keep trying to get jobs done but find the work never seems to be done properly or the repairs don’t last. 



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