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.
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..
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.
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.
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.