South-Africa (5/5) The Big Five

Starting the tour

The 6th of August, I was dropped off at Belvedere Estate. Belvedere is a hotel mainly for the people either going on or coming from a tour. I arrived begin afternoon. I was welcomed by the friendly manager and lead to my room by one of the assistance. The room was quite spacious with my own bathroom with bath and shower. I even had a small tv – it only had 2 channels, but still – and a tiny kitchen (microwave, sink, mini fridge, coffeemaker). I thought I’d better make use of the luxuries offered by the hotel, as it was only temporarily. Then the rest of the property includes a dining room, a lounge, a bar, an outside braai spot and a swimming pool. It was a lovely place to stay at, although I usually am not that fond of hotels. Luckily it was just for the night then, as I was leaving on my tour the next day already. My tour group was very small, which is a good thing in my opinion. It gives you more chance of enjoying the sights and picking a good seat in the truck, yet there are still enough people to have a great time with. I first met all of them around dinner time. We were a total of 9, including Louis the guide and Thembi the cook. The rest existed of two American girls, an English couple and another couple from Poland. Now was explained what the planning was for coming days. When we finished our delicious dinner we got to know one another while hanging in the lounge. The day after would be our first day of our 4-day tour starting around 8 am.

Before departure I dropped all the stuff I was planning on using in my duffel bag and left my big bag at the hotel. Seeing as a duffel bag is more flexible and fits better in the storage. That day we had to travel a distance of 480 km (≈ 300 miles), therefor Louis wanted to take as little breaks as possible. The vehicle was a big truck from nomad (one of the companies that organize these tours) with lockers for our stuff. We only stopped a few times, including for meal time, pee break and to stock up on food, drinks or clothes for our tour. We also had a planned stop at God’s Window. The ride there by itself was already amazing in my opinion, but once I stood at one of the viewpoints it wasn’t even comparable anymore. From up there I could see an area filled with canyons, rock formations and waterfalls all in one valley. Taking it all in, I understood why they named these viewpoints “God’s Windows”.

“An area so vast and made up of beauty so defined that it can only be closely compared to the beauty that God saw when he created the world. It’s fitting then that this region is called “God’s Window.” –  Nomad Africa Adventure Tours.

After we came near to ¾ hour, it was time to get back on the road to head to our accommodation. We were staying at Gecko’s lodge. As I had chosen to sleep in a tent, instead of accommodation I had to put up my tent first, before it was going to get dark. In August, it is still winter in SA and around these times the sun sets pretty early. When my tent was ready, with some help from Louis, we went to the other side of the lodge. Here we got treated to a real African meal. It was delicious! When we thought that was all, we were seated to enjoy an African dance. At the end the audience, including me, was pulled in to dance along. It was a fun evening, now it was time to head into my tent though. Our group had to get up at 4 in the morning to start our full 4×4 game drive through Kruger Park. I was both excited for it, but also slightly anxious. I was scared it was going to be disappointing after putting my hopes very high! I’d find out it was far from a disappointment.

SUNP0625
Our view the way there

The Big Five!

After actually getting up sorta on time I quickly broke down my tent, carefully making sure my tent was snake, spider and scorpion free. I had to rush my dinner, as our ride was earlier than expected. Louis and Thembi weren’t coming with us on this one, so we had a different tour guide. The ride to the entrance of the national park was around 20 minutes. I stayed hopeful, yet realistic about it reaching my expectations. *The tour was from 6/7 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. (Like I said, it gets dark very early and we wanted to be back on time). In the ±8 hours of spotting animals we saw plenty of animals! Diverse bird and antelope species, giraffes, zebra’s, – we even saw a baby giraffe and zebra walking together – wildebeests, hippo’s, a warthog and many more. This also includes the Big Five. The Big Five exists of the lion, the elephant, the rhino, the buffalo and finally the leopard.

There are over 2000 elephants in Kruger Park, so that one is pretty much a guarantee. And even though an elephant is seen often, it was always exciting to see one, especially whole families. Then we also saw two lions at an almost dried out river and later we spotted a few more hiding in bushes. The buffalo was probably the easiest one, he was extremely close to the road when we drove past him. On our way back we saw two separate rhino’s far in the distance. If you get to tick off the rhino on a tour, you should already be happy. Finally the rarest to spot of them all: the leopard. This was actually in the beginning of the tour. While we were focusing on the hippo in the pond and the eagle on a branch, our guide shushed us. Curious we silenced. He had spotted a leopard on the other side of the pond hiding in a bush. Everyone immediately excited, we all tried to find the hidden predator. It took me more time than I am proud to admit.. That part of the tour is probably one of my favourite moments. We sat there over two hours waiting for him to come in actions. Every now and then an impala or a kudu (both an antelope specie) came close for a drink. They could sense something was near, yet decided to proceed. One came within three meters of it. Two metres. Our hearts were racing. I was trying not to blink scared I would miss anything. Then the prey closer than ever lifted his head towards the carnivore, caught the scent and fled the scene. This happened a few times. The guide explained that the leopard is a predator with patience. It can lay down at one spot for hours and won’t attack unless it’s completely silent. Seeing as after a while a car would come or leave, he remained at his place until all was gone.

After a successful first day we were dropped back at the gecko’s lodge, where we left to go to the second lodge. This lodge was a great stay! I am glad we got to stay here two nights. There was an outside pool with lay-down chairs around it. In these chairs, you could see hippo’s bathing in the river very closeby. This lodge is located right next to Kruger park with a fence defending us from these dangerous animals. At night this is a great place to enjoy the beautiful stars. This time we didn’t get our meal from the lodge, so it was up to Thembi to fill our stomachs. She has done a great job too, as not one meal prepared by her wasn’t excellent! Whilst I was still enjoying my meal, the Polish couple had chosen that moment to share their experience with the butterfish. The butterfish is an oily fish that I most likely won’t be trying any time soon..

SUNP0792
Beautiful place

Even more animals

Again we were up before the sun was. On our third day we had the entire day full of activities. It began in the morning with a bush walk. All 9 of us went along for this. Two armed guides explained us what to do in various situations. From wanting to ask a question, to standing eye in eye with a predator. By foot we went into the park and learnt a few things about the fauna and flora. We mostly learned stuff about animal feces.. During our walk we came across a fresh footprint of a lion. Meaning there could be a chance he was still close. The bush walk wasn’t too long. It was fun and informative though.

When we got back, the next activity began almost right after. We went back to Kruger for the afternoon, yet this time in our nomad truck with our usual guide. We once again spotted many animals, more bird and antelope species and we got every animal of ‘The Ugly Five’. Which are the vulture, baboon, warthog, wildebeest and the hyena. We didn’t see the hyena on the 4×4 tour, making us all happy when we saw him crossing the road. I was already satisfied with the animals seen and activities done so far and it wasn’t even over.

The last activity of the day was a night drive through Kruger. Starting off at a nice and secluded place enjoying the beautiful sunset. In the meanwhile we were given Amarula and some snacks. For the curious ones, Amarula is a fruit which is used to make an appetizing alcoholic drink. The fruit is sometimes also eaten by elephants, causing them to get a bit drunk. When the sun had set, the drinks were drunken and everyone was ready to go we left to start the night drive. A special lamp was used to spot the animals that come out at when it’s dark. We did get to see a few small animals and a couple of rhino’s, but the guide felt a bit guilty that we didn’t see many more. Nonetheless I was very pleased!

On our way back

On our day of returning, we got a few hours of sleep extra than usual. I got up at 8, broke down my tent, again first checking for any venomous animals and had another great breakfast from Thembi. Not much later we left the lodge. On the way back, we only had to travel 390 km (242 miles) compared to the 480 km (300) ride there. It was also less important to arrive early, so we had more times for stops and to enjoy the rest of the sights. Which I was quite happy about. Our driver wanted to stop at a gasstation first, to show us the land of a random rich guy. What was so special about this land? This guy holds rhino’s, ostriches and antelopes on his land. We even saw a little rhino. Whether he bought the little one or they started breeding we don’t know, but I hope the latter. Funny, to see rhino’s through the mirror as you’re standing at the urinoir.

11221394_10153531006515549_7850221339150155510_n
At a gasstation… Absurd!

We stopped at Bourke’s Luck Potholes next. It’s an amazing place where the Blyde River and the Treur River meet and the Blyde River Canyon begins. Our guide explained the meaning of the names and the reasoning behind it. It began when a group of men went on an expedition. The time it took for them to return was longer than expected and they were presumed dead. That’s why they called it the Treur River, which means river of sorrow. Then when they did return the other river was given the name Blyde River, the river of joy. Now this place is where the tears of joy and the tears of sorrow come together. I find that an amazing and interesting backstory for these rivers. People also come to Bourke’s Luck Potholes to be amazed by the extraordinary patterns and rock formations created by water erosion.

Then we got to the last point of the Panorama Route, where one can see the Blyde River Canyon, world’s third largest canyon, and the Three Rondavels. These Rondavels are a set of three gigantic rock peaks. From up here the view of the canyon is indescribably beautiful! Taking it all in, I was happy to be blessed with the opportunity to do this tour. When visiting South-Africa, Cape Town may be nice, but the Panorama Route should be a must on your visiting list!

For the rest we had a few stops to either get lunch or gas. It was easily turned into an enjoyable stop as we could listen to covers where rock music was turned into jazz music or when these african ladies randomly started dancing with others joining in. It was around dinner time when we arrived back at Belvedere. Thembi left before dinner and unfortunately I couldn’t thank her for the cooking. Louis sticked around for the night. Someone else was actually supposed to be our guide and I am happy that that was not the case. All of us had a great evening at the lounge and the bar, but as the night digressed it was time to leave. Sadly Belvedere was full and together with the 2 American girls, I was the unlucky one to have to go to the second, lesser hotel. Seeing as I was pretty much the only one that didn’t have a tour or flight the next morning, I saw no point in complaining though. The other hotel, although probably great in day, was not that much compared to the other one. There were no people, the lounge and bar were closed and I was lead to my room by a guard where I made an early night. The day after I would get a ride back to Hanneke’s for the last two weeks.

Final words

Many had told me before this trip that I was way too young to travel on my one and many doubted that I was actually going to do it. During my trip too, many were stunned by the distance I put between me and my hometown at that age. A lot of people asked me if I found it scary to be so far away from home all alone. All I know is, that even though I am not too much of an extrovert and the fact that I was often anxious, shy or reserved, I never felt more comfortable the very second I set foot in South-Africa. I could spend all day worrying and thinking about what to say at an interview or stressing for an exam, but I felt none of that when I stood at the airport in Port Elizabeth. Then people asked me why I went alone. Isn’t it boring? You have to do everything alone. It’s just way more fun with friends. The thing is though, the fact that I was on my own made me do things I wouldn’t normally do. I spoke to more people. I made friends everywhere I went. I never felt alone during my trip. So I have learned that it might seem hopeless or scary in the beginning and that travelling alone may sound boring, but in the end none of these feelings were with me.


*I am not a hundred percent certain what the times were, but I am pretty sure we came close to at least 8 hours of spotting.

**Any given advice and or opinions is only meant to either describe my trip or to help people have a great travelling experience**


 

If you ever feel like doing a safari I can recommend Nomad Tours. They are among the cheapest companies, give great tours and are very friendly even months after doing a tour. Don’t take my word for it though, go and try to see if there are any special offers – I once saw an expired 2 for 1, which is a big offer! – or whether you prefer another. But if you do want to do a tour, be smart and book ahead, because these companies are quickly booked. Tipping on a tour is advised. The months July, August and September are likely the best months to do a safari as it is easier to spot animals due to the lack of high grass. Although there is a higher chance of malaria in September. There are malaria pills for them though.

Nomad Tours

 

South-Africa (4/5) Dumpster diving

(20 juli tot en met 23 augustus)

New place, different experiences

Once I arrived at the airport of Johannesburg, the sun had already set. Just a few percent battery left on my phone. Yet I still had to download the address which was in my mail. After quite a search for working WiFi, I for once had some luck when it comes to my phone. With literally 1% left, I was able to write it down on paper. Now just to get there.
Read more

South-Africa (2/5) Plettenberg Bay

Plettenberg Bay

My last morning in Jeffrey’s Bay and I almost overslept for the bus… Of course I had also been so smart to not pack my stuff the night before.  Luckily the bus driver (and the passengers) were patient and gave me enough time to get ready. After I got my bags, I gave the dogs one last pet and woke – of course he was still asleep :p – Tyrone up and said goodbye to the hostel. The bus ride was not that bad, but it helped that I had an amazing view, Tsitsikamma being the main source of that. After about 2 á 3 hours on the bus I arrived at my next stay for coming days. The hostel I stayed at was Albergo backpackers, owned by a Dutch couple. Apparently this place is a Dutchies-magnet, because I heard my mother tongue everywhere.. Besides a few German and local people, it was for the rest Dutch. But I didn’t expect any less – We travel a lot.. – so it was fine. Upon arrival I was shown around. First the lounge where you could chill and converse, then outside there are hammocks, a fireplace and lots of green, a bar in the corner and a building separate from the reception and lounge with the kitchen and rooms.

It was still morning, therefore I decided to dump my bags, get out of my sweatpants and go explore the area. At the reception I got some advice on where to go for hikes and what kind of transport to use when doing any of my planned activities. I was given a map of the town and went to see the area. It is much bigger than I had expected and at the beach I got to see the Robberg, but I didn’t clearly see where I could get up so I just postponed it to another day in the week. Now okay, my day was nice, but this is not why I came to Plettenberg Bay. Therefore I made an appointment, well the backpacker’s assistant did, for the Tenikwa tour, Elephant Sanctuary and the transport for it. I got 10% discount thanks to some flyers at the hostel. I went to bed early, as the morning walk started around sunrise.

Petting a Cheetah!

Waking up from the alarm clock at 6 in the morning, I got my little camera and left with my chatty transport. I don’t get how someone can be that chatty this early in the morning… I had chosen for a combo, where you walk with the cheetah’s in the morning and then you get to see a few other cats as well. When I arrived there I got welcomed by very friendly people – even though they called me a “kaaskop”* after hearing my nationality – and lead me to the introduction room. Here was explained what Tenikwa does for the animals and that it’s not just for tourism. I will put a link below if you want to read about their rehabilitation center. Furthermore they gave us the do’s and don’t’s when it comes to cheetah’s. Apparently a buzzing phone can piss them off, so better turn off your phone or keep it in the locker… On the tour were also two older ladies from Capetown with the combo and then 2 American girls and another ‘Captonian’ guy with just the sunrise walk. After the introduction we were lead as one group to the fences that separated us from the cats. It felt kinda strange and awesome that in a minute there would no longer be anything in between us. Excited we watched as the keepers went in and got a female called Thandi and a male named Duma. Then just like that I was holding a rope with Duma on the other end as if I was walking my dog. It felt so weird and awesome at the same time. The way these animals walk is just astonishing. Then we went for the walk and I soon learned that I was not the one that was in control, nor was I going to try to be. I was told in the beginning that the rope is there just for us, because if the cheetah starts sprinting, I wouldn’t want to try and stop them. When walking the female I noticed she was a little bit moody, it seemed the chirping birds were getting on her nerves. The keepers had warned me not to block her sight nor to look them in the eyes and after a warning like this, I felt my heart drop when Thandi suddenly looked back with a cold blooded stare of the predator she is. Despite her mood, I was still able to pet both of them, which was awesome. After the walk they get their food and we watched as they filled their stomachs. As they chewed on their big pieces of meat, we could hear the bones which they crushed with ease using their sharp teeth. After this bad-ass walk, we went back to take a small break before part 2 of the combo began.

After we had been delighted with some food and drinks, the others left and the three of us were led to finish our tour. We started with two young lions. They were not far from maturity, meaning they would almost be released. Then one of the keepers opened the door and guided us inside. I did not expect that! It was fun, the caretakers played with the lions by having a tire on top of a stick and letting them try and catch it. In the meanwhile they also had to make sure the lions wouldn’t play with us or themselves, seeing as they have massive strength in their paws and jaw and we humans are so weak :p. It was incredibly fun to look at these big cats just playing as if they’re house pets. Now I am not sure if this is the correct chronological order, but I think we went to see a leopard after the lions. No, this time we did not get to go in the cage and I am sure it was the right choice. The leopard is such a majestic beast. I am happy I saw a 2nd one a month later when I was in Kruger Park. On the rest of the tour we also got to see some servals in action from up-close, a few caracals, the black-footed cat, the African wild cat and finally a honey badger. The tour was a lot of fun and afterwards I was given a ride to the Elephant Sanctuary.

A nice surprise! 

In all honesty.. I did not get the experience I was hoping for. At the reception I got greeted indifferently and impolite and then I found out riding the elephants wasn’t possible as it had rained. Then the hour I was supposed to walk the elephants was a lot shorter than an hour. The people that were with me when walking the elephants were really nice though. And I did enjoy it, I did have fun learning about the elephants and feeding them, but it just felt too much like an act that’s repeated exactly the same way daily. Of course these tours get repeated almost the same way daily, but when you’re doing it right, it doesn’t feel like it. As it was over much sooner than expected, I still had a whole hour to kill before my ride would pick me up. It seemed it was a blessing in disguise, because as I was waiting along the road, a lady named Lee, stopped by to ask me if I was waiting for someone. After she heard I had an hour left, she asked me why I didn’t go to Monkeyland and go on a tour there, as it’s exactly an hour. I explained I didn’t want to spend too much money. Then something amazing happened, she explained that she is the owner of Monkeyland and offered me a free tour, as she doesn’t care about the money, but more about making people happy. It made my day! She knows Albergo and called them, making sure the shuttle drive would come to the right place. Out of the two tours, Birds of Eden and Monkeyland, I chose to go with the monkeys. It was a lot of fun, especially as I hadn’t planned on going there. I learned a few things, met some blue ball monkeys and witnessed a dominance battle between two monkeys. I am still grateful for that and after thanking her, I went back to the hostel. The evening I spent around the fireplace with some guests.

Sticking around a bit longer

At first it was my plan to go to Knysna after I had done these activities, but I really liked it in Plettenberg’s Bay. With that, it was also almost impossible finding a place in the cheap hostels around that time in Knysna. They were apparently having an annual Oyster festival, thus it was incredible busy everywhere. This gave me the opportunity to try and hike Robberg. With my great sense of direction, I got lost the first time… The second time I did find my way – accidentally taking a huge detour – and I found out they charge money. As I was wearing sports clothes, I didn’t have any money with me… On 3rd try I actually got to go hike there, following The Point’s hiking trail (9.2 km/ 5,7 miles ). When I came to The Point though, it was way past the time limit and flood was coming, so I had to go back the same way and finished my hike through the Witsand hiking trail. Robberg is a beautiful place for hiking, I just find it sad that I have to pay just because I want to see and walk on nature’s beauty.Robberg Hiking trails

I had done all I wanted in Plettenberg’s Bay, so my last days I spent enjoying the weather and the presence of my compatriots, now that I still could. Then I went back to planning my next destination, which was Capetown. I wanted to go to Mossel Bay for cage diving, but at my tour in Tenikwa, one of the American girls had told me about a place in Cape Town that would give you your money back when no sharks were found. The Captonian completely convinced me when he said that there is also a bigger chance of finding large sharks there. So this was the end of Plettenberg for me, a lovely place where I had stayed for a week. I had another week left before going to my 2nd workaway place, which I was going to spend well.


A small recap of Plettenberg: Albergo is a great backpackers and one of the cheapest there, the people are very likeable and it’s easy to make friends here. The Tenikwa tour is definitely worth the money. Monkeyland was awesome, but if you’re either low on time or money, I wouldn’t do it. If you really want to come in contact with elephants, I would try to find a different place first. Robberg is beautiful and great for hikes, even though it’s ridiculous you have to pay, it’s not that expensive. The beaches are great for long walks. The city is not huge, but bigger than Jeffrey’s Bay and it’s cozy. People here are very nice, just make sure that the ones you meet are not one of the few with an underlying reason.


*Kaaskop is the Dutch/Afrikaans way of saying ‘Cheesehead’, which is sometimes used to call people from the Netherlands.

**I am writing this way after my trip and just before my next one, so apologies as this is just a short and quick summarize of everything I still know so that I can start writing on time before I leave**

***Any given advice and or opinions is only meant to either describe my trip or to help people have a great travelling experience***


Links:

Tenikwa

Tenikwa Rehabilitation

Elephant Sanctuary

Monkeyland

Albergo Backpackers

Baz Bus

Cage diving in Mossel Bay