African Adventure: Days 1 – 4 (South Africa)

22 Oct

About 14 months ago I entered a competition run by Tucan Travel – a travel tour company. About 12 months ago they told me that I’d won the competition and as a result I was getting a free tour of South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, lasting 12 days. 2 days ago I returned from what is up there with the best trip of my life.

This blog post will be long and I’m going to write down what I did and saw over the course of the trip. I saw some incredible animals, met some wonderful people and completely re-fell in love with Africa. I can’t thank Tucan Travel enough for the experience and I’m already saving to go back to Africa with them in March 2017.

Day 1 – Pretoria
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So, I got ever so slightly sidetracked on the way to Jo’burg and went to Paris. I had a couple of hours to kill, so I did a wander around Notre-Dam, went to eat at Frogburger (really good food btw) and headed to Shakespeare and Co. Hey, if I can squeeze another country in, why the hell not.

ANYWAY. After flying Air France (really good flight by the way – amazing food choice, complimentary champagne even though I was in economy, comfy… definitely recommend them) I rocked up to Jo’burg. I got a transfer from the airport to Pretoria where I was due to meet my tour group.

I pretty much just mooched around the campsite for the, taking in the GORGEOUS purple Jacaranda trees and getting used to the heat. I also cracked open my first Savannah Dry of the trip (it reminds me of the last time I went to Africa, each sip immediately takes me to Namibia and makes me very happy).

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I met my tour group, some of whom I went on to become good mates with. Leah (tour leader) is wicked – lovely, funny and just generally great all round. Timan (truck driver) is one of the smartest men I’ve ever met and SO passionate about Africa and his job. Sitting with him for a couple of hours teaches you more than a whole bloody year at school, I swear. As for my tour buddies, I made good friends with Alex (he brought Cards Against Humanity with him, winner) and Donna (chilled Aussie lady full of life).

So, after putting up my tent for the first time (started off being totally shit at it, by the end of the trip I had ‘clipfinger’ and was not totally terrible at getting them up and down) I went to bed as we had to wake up at 5am to head to Hazyview. Yikes.

Day 2 – Hazyview, via Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window and Lisbon Falls

So, day 2. I spent the morning re-learning how to flap (drying dishes), packing my tent up and getting onto the truck for the first big journey. Leah gave us a run-down of the places we’d be stopping and Timan (as he went on to do every morning) told us exactly how many kilometres we’d be travelling. Here’s where I went on day 2…

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Blyde River Canyon is bloody beautiful. It’s one of the largest canyons on earth and consists of rolling hills, greenery as fart as the eye can see and the view above. If you’ve been to Africa, you’ll know they’re not so big on health and safety… you can literally walk right up to the edge and jump off if you really want to. I dread to think how many people have slipped off some very high rocks in Africa.

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God’s window. Pretty easy to see why it’s called that – the view is spectacular. Leah said that actually this view is the best she’s seen it in a really long time (apparently it gets misty and you can’t see much) so I was very lucky! After swooning over this view, I climbed in 38 degree heat up to a mini rainforest and to an equally lovely view (on the right, above).

When in Barcelona, my friend and I got chatting to a guy who rents a boat. Rather than having a Landlord, he has a Waterlord. HOW GREAT IS THAT? I want to be a waterlord more than anything. Epic job title. Anyway; my friend Fab then pointed out I’m drawn to water – fountains, lakes, splashing, waterfalls. It’s more than the sound, I just can’t quite put my finger on what though. That’s beside the point; Lisbon Falls, although not as impressive as Vic Falls which I arrived at the end of the tour, were a lovely watery stop-off.

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In the evening we pulled into Hazyview, on the edge of Kruger National Park. We stopped off at a supermarket where I got a bright pink coconut thing (yum) and we then went on to a campsite which overlooked the water and gave me my first stunning African sunset. The sunset and sunrise in Africa is amazing; bigger, brighter and more intense than you’ll ever see in the Europe. After having the group cook a meal (and having to bite my tongue as an old man on my tour had a right-wing political rant, bleugh) I went to sleep at about 10pm, ready to get up at 5am to head to Kruger.

Days 3 – Kruger National Park

I’ve wanted to go to Kruger for a very, very long time. So much so that the early start didn’t faze me at all – after all, I was going to drive around all day in a 4×4 and see The Big Five (Rhino, Elephant, Giraffee, Jaguar and LIONS!) and attempt to see the Ugly Five (Heyena, Warthog, Anteater, Wildebeest and the Marabou Stalk).

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The day long safari was good – we saw in the dim distance a Leopard hunting Impalas. We saw a ZILLION Impalas (you get bored of the poor things after about an hour) and had giraffes crossing the road, baboons following the vehicle and amazingly we managed to go off-road and get up close to a White Rhino. According to our driver, the White Rhino is the most poached animals in Kruger and it’s quite rare to see one anywhere near the road! Hilariously the driver was actually a bit useless and every time we saw something he’d park directly behind a tree when we wanted to take a photo… to the point where “It’s behind a tree” became the main phrase uttered during the trip.

The highlight of the day was seeing 4 female lions and 4 lion cubs sat on a rock. My camera phone couldn’t get a good photo, but they looked JUST like the 2014 winner of Wildlife Photographer of the Year shot.

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That evening, after seeing a group of elephant playing under a tree (as ya do) we went to a campsite located in the middle of Kruger and worryingly had a load of Impala wandering around. Which means they got through whatever barriers were meant to be keeping the lions, cheetahs and leopards out. Very reassuring. Timan cooked steak and I ACTUALLY ate it and liked it (?!) and the group stayed up toasting marshmallows on the campfire until we went to bed. I stupidly positioned my tent under a tree and had baboons and monkeys jumping on top of me the entire night. T.I.A (This Is Africa).

Day 4 – Kruger National Park

The second day in Kruger was spent on Peeky, our tour truck. Funnily enough, we actually saw LOADS more amazing sights on the huge yellow monster vehicle than we did in the nippy 4×4 the day previously, but most of animal spotting is complete luck!

We saw ANOTHER White Rhino, right next to the side of the road again and this time NOT BEHIND A TREE. It even crossed the road – we got so close to it! We also saw a LOT of zebras and giraffes and endless elephants (elephants have no natural predators and as a result are actually over populated).

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I also, for the first time, saw a leopard in the wild. We spotted it, flopped in the tree, their legs dangling either side of the branch. Leopards hunt alone and it’s hard to spot them as they usually hide in trees when they’re not hunting, so they can survey the land. We were immensely lucky that the leopard not only posed in the tree for us, but decide to get down and cross the road. Literally couldn’t believe it – so, so beautiful.

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However, the highlight for me was seeing two male lions up close, chilling by the side of the road in the early morning. LOOK AT HOW AMAZING THE LION IS OMG I LOVE HIM. It because clear quickly to my tour group that I’m obsessed with lions and apparently I even have a little lion dance I do when I get over-excited. I spent most of my time gazing out of the window at them – again, I was SO LUCKY and one of them got up, walked RIGHT TOWARDS THE TRUCK and then went and flopped down on the ground again. On the other side of the road there was a male and female lion; totally saw them having sex. Lion sex is also something I haven’t seen before, so there ya go. I was basically living in an Attenborough documentary and was ecstatic the entire day.

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We also got out (on a safe bridge, s’all good) and took in the view above. It reminded me of the Okavango Delta and stretches for as far as the eye can see. I had Donna take a well artistic shot of me gazing out at the view (above) before we headed to our final Kruger campsite. After putting the tents up I cooked with my cook group – we did fish with rosemary potatoes. I did the potatoes and considering I was cooking for 11 people I was pretty pleased with myself. I then spent the evening sipping on Savannah and chatting with Timan about Africa, politics and more before turning in absurdly early again due to a crazy early start as on Day 5 we drove to Botswana.

Next installment will be coming soon – need to write down when I did in Botswana and Zambia before I forget the little details 🙂

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