South Africa Safari and More
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We were barely ten minutes into our first game drive, with the sun still not completely risen, when we spotted what was to be the first of many amazing wildlife sightings. A pair of cheetahs casually strolled along the road in front of our jeep without a care in the world. This was our first experience of what the amazing Kruger National Park in South Africa has to offer, and we were already being spoilt. All moans about the 4.45am wake-up call immediately ended at that moment as we watched the cheetahs - and a third possible sibling that joined them - for several minutes before they melted into the bush.
There are only said to be around 120 cheetahs in the Kruger National Park, which apparently covers the size of Wales in the UK. So to spot three of them barely a kilometre into the park was simply amazing. In fact, our outstanding Riviera Travel
tour manager Sylvia said she had previously been on almost 20 safaris in Kruger without seeing a single one.
An amazing early morning start to our first Kruger safari
That was to be the start of our amazing stay at the fabulous Hippo Hollow Country Estate Lodge, which sits just outside Kruger National Park. During the course of our three nights at the lodge, we went on a full-day safari and a sunset safari. In all, we spotted more than two dozen different species: some, like the cheetahs and a leopard with a recently-killed impala up a tree, clearly rarer than others when it comes to sightings. There was a hyena with very young cubs, a white rhino with a juvenile, a family of hippos, warthogs, an African buffalo, various antelope, and numerous zebra, elephant, and giraffe, including a pair of males knocking the stuffing out of each other.
There were also various birds on display, including a vulture, a Snake Eagle, a Great Eagle Owl and a rarely-seen Ground Hornbill. The only member of the so-called Big Five that we didn't get to see over the course of our two safaris was a lion, but then I would happily swap our cheetah sighting with a lion any day of the week.
The battlefield site of Isandlwana
As impressive as Kruger was, there is a lot more to South Africa than just wildlife, which can still be found in other parts of the country in any event. Our tour with the Staffordshire-based Riviera Travel had begun with a flight to Johannesburg before driving to Kruger. It was then on to KwaZulu Natal for an unforgettable visit to the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift, where the British and Zulu fought over several days in January 1879, and later immortalised in the films Zulu and Zulu Dawn. While nothing remains of the actual mission at Rorke's Drift it is still an emotive place, but the site at Isandlwana has been left untouched ever since. Almost 1,400 British soldiers died in the battle and they remain on the field, buried five to a grave beneath nearly 300 white stone cairns.
As the country is so vast, we returned to Johannesburg Airport in order to fly to the Western Cape for the second, and pretty contrasting, second week of our holiday. As well as our UK tour manager, we were also joined on our second week by excellent South African guide Canaan who was born and brought up in KwaZulu Natal. Our first stop was the coastal town of Mossel Bay, with our hotel affording a splendid view, and sound, of the Indian Ocean. From here, we embarked on a day trip to the huge and impressive limestone Cango Caves and an ostrich farm.
A rock hyrax enjoys the view from the top of Table Mountain
After two nights at Mossel Bay, it was back on the road to enjoy more of the area's picturesque Garden Route, stopping at the whale-watching town of Hermanus, although we were too early to spot any, It was then the turn of the beautiful Winelands region, where acres of vineyards dotted the landscape for mile after mile. After checking into our luxurious hotel and golf resort, where the golf course was designed by the great Jack Nicklaus, we visited the delightful town of Franschoek where, conveniently for us, a literary festival was being sponsored by a winery. It was then on to the equally attractive Stellenbosch before an afternoon tour, and wine-tasting, at an award-winning winemaker.
The final part of our coach tour saw us head for Cape Town, where we were to spend our final three nights. On route, we called in at the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens before arriving in Cape Town itself. Fortunately, the weather, which had been kind to us for most of our holiday, stayed on our side in Cape Town. This was particularly important in visiting the imposing must-see Table Mountain, which has to be reached by a revolving cable car.
Cape of Good Hope
An equally important place to see in Cape Town is Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for almost 20 years due to his protest struggles against apartheid. The visit, which requires a ferry crossing, is made all the more poignant by the use of ex-political prisoners of Robben Island as guides. A stay in Cape Town also provides the opportunity to visit the actual Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point which lie at the tip of the African continent. Cape Point has its very own funicular taking visitors to the 19th-century lighthouse. And no stay in Cape Town would be complete without a stroll along the V & A Waterfront filled with restaurants and attractions.
All that remained was the long journey home, but with a multitude of memories - and many more photos - to look forward to.
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