Kruger National Park Caravan Experience
By Len Bambridge
Day 1: Transfer to Kruger National Park
Well actually just prior to day one we were flying in on our last leg from Dubai to Johannesburg in the late afternoon and we witnessed our first African sunset. Very spectacular from 45,000 ft.
We were met by Riaan from Jurgens South Africa at the airport last night and were transported to our hotel. What a delight to be met by such a friendly and accommodating escort.
After a much needed sleep and a yummy breakfast we are ready to embark on our adventure.
The agenda for the day is to drive from Johannesburg to Nelspruit to pick up the car and caravan and then drive to Skukuza Camp, sound like a ho-hum day, but the reality it was far from that.
On the road trip from Jo'burg, “see we already sound like locals”, to Nelspruit we passed through a few smaller villages and also saw the coal fired power stations and coal washing facilities. The atmosphere was quite hazy in this area partly due to pollution but also the natural moist hot air. We saw some gazelle and also a troop of baboons near a farm house. These evidently are somewhat of a pest in these areas.
We arrived at Nelspruit Camping and caravanning store and after some local input and map perusal we are on our way and ready to go on the adventure of a lifetime. We thought we may be on our own now but Riaan and Deon took us to the park gate and saw us on our way. Did you know that in South Africa they drive on the same side of the road as us in Australia? Great, none of that wrong side of car, wrong side of the road stuff to contend with. After an interesting drive through the country side and the town of Heyview where we so many school children on the way home from school at 2:00 pm.
We enter Kruger National Park at Numbi Gate some 50 odd km from Skukuza Camp our destination for a 2 night stay. The speed limit in the park is 50 km / hr on sealed roads and 40 km / hr on gravel so we did not have too much time to waste, probably won't see much on the main roads anyway.
How wrong can you be! Elephant wow tick, zebra tick, gazelle tick and a few very different birds. We arrive at Skukuza Camp find our camp site and thanks to whoever stocked up the caravan with all the goodies and our combined culinary skills, we have a great evening meal.
We are a bit tired after our trip so far so an early night is the plan and to wake up for a bright and early start tomorrow.
Day 2 - Drive from Skukuza
After spending the first night in our van, slept well, we woke not so early! After a light breakfast we decided to head towards Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie. We had been told by others that this was very good for elephant viewing, maybe leopard, probably lion and many other special treats.
As is often the way with us, a wrong turn is not unknown, so, after a reverse of direction, we travelled back along a road where we had seen nothing but a few small springbok when we came across a very large elephant wandering up the road. We were amazed, wow an elephant, in the wild doing what elephants do. As the day progressed we almost got to the stage where European travellers do when they say ABC, another bloody castle or cathedral. Through the day we saw hundreds of elephants, in the bush, in the water and on the road but we could never say ABE another bloody elephant. These are individuals, as I said wild animals, living as nature intended. Some seem to say “I know you and why you are here so enjoy”. Another, probably a youngster, will flap his huge ears and show some aggression, seeming to say “what are you lot doing on my road, get off or I will make you”. Others in the river for example are living the good life.
We have asked what is the trump card for anyone visiting Kruger? The answers are many, to see a leopard lazing in a tree to see a cheetah or to see a lion on a kill. Well we drove around a corner, not another car in sight and right there, three metres off the road were four lions feeding on a wilderbeast carcus obviously an overnight kill. We are not ghoulish people and we appreciate that nature is nature and survival for some animals is to kill and eat others but this was an awesome sight. To be so close as to hear the bones crunching as the lioness fed was truly seeing nature at its best or worst.
We had been travelling for some time now and had not seen a giraffe. OK I said to Pauline I need to see a giraffe now and she said there is one, it was a little way off but looked so elegant. Mind you sitting under a tree in the same photo frame was a rhinoceros. How much better can this day get. Well later on we went through a dip in the road where a creek usually runs and we encountered ten giraffe feeding and again not another car in sight. We finally made it to Lower Sabie and back to to Skuzuka Camp. What a great day.
Day 3 - Skukuza Camp to Satara Camp
Our journey today takes us from Skukuza Camp to Satara Camp ninety odd Kilometres north on a sealed road. With a speed limit of 50 km / hr one would expect a trip of about 2 hours. But this is Kruger with lots to see, so about 4 hours later we arrived and set up. The temperature today is in the high 30s again so we will take a tip from the animals and rest.
We have decided that it is just silly to take a photo of every animal we see. It’s not now about how many we see but what they are doing. We now are taking less photos and are adding to our memories by sitting longer at each sighting and observing.
For example watching how the giraffe will wrap its long tongue around a branch, break it off and then eat it. I also think they must have multiple stomachs like a cow because we watched some just standing in the shade chewing.
We also saw a large herd of elephants crossing the road, we stopped of course, and noticed they were heading for a large concrete water tank. The larger elephants were able to reach up over the rim to get the water while the youngsters could not. So the adults were giving the little ones a good drink and a hose down as well.
There are always many herds of small antelope? Gazelle? And some larger types not sure of the correct names. A little “google” research is in order.
We also saw some wart hogs, zebra,some larger antelope species, a few small lizards on the road and many birds from very small finch like ones to quite large eagles. There is one with a long curved beak which frequent the road side catching insects we think. We have even seen these slicing and spreading the elephant dung about possibly looking for insect larvae or some partially digested goodies.
After camp set up a late lunch and a little rest. Our rest plan disappeared and we decided to go for a late afternoon drive. A trip along a gravel road just north of Satara was very poor as far as game spotting went, we did catch a glimpse of a jackel and came across a lazy hyena with three cubs laying on the side of the road. At first we thought it was a very unfortunate road kill, but then it lifted its head to show that all was well, just needed a rest. The winning part of the trip was the air conditioning in the car, high thirties again outside. We went to the western boundary of the park and watched the sunset through fence.
After a nice wine and a good feed we had an early night intending to do an early drive in the morning.
Day 4 - Satara Camp
Wake up at Satara before daybreak and the sun was just breaking the horizon as we left so we tried for some arty photos with the rising sun as a backdrop. We saw some cape buffalo, elephants and antelope but the sun in our eyes made spotting difficult. We continued on to N'wanesti picnic site, these picnic sites are the only places in the park you can get out of your vehicle. A cuppa and some morning tea overlooking a magnificent vista with a few animals in the distance and a large crocodile in the river below.
We headed back along the sealed road towards Satara when we saw a number of cars stopped, we pulled over to watch a pride of lions looking for a rest spot. They paraded for us for a while the settled into the grass where they were almost invisible. The truth is that most of these animals survive by not being seen so for us to site some is a real privilege.
We travelled on and stopped beside a water hole and watched some larger antelope drinking, as we watched more kept appearing and just as we were about to leave some zebra joined them. What a sight this was. As we drove along Pauline spotted two ostriches, a first for us. And I took some pictures of a bird I have names the ridiculously long tailed bird because its tail is three to four times its body length. Then my number one spotter pointed out an eagle on a nest feeding a baby. How many highlights in one day?
A short detour to Nkaya Pan, a larger water hole where some elephant were taking a bath and doing some free diving - they do have their own snorkel! We sat for some time just watching the antics of these huge creatures enjoying a dip.
A lunch stop at Muzandzeni Picnic Site with an elephant not too far off.
Then on the road again about 5 km from Satara camp we found another large water hole right beside the main road. There were elephants too numerous to count, some swimming some wading some just standing, a classic African picture. There were three hippos in the water too but hippos tend not to be good photographic subjects when they are in the water.
Day 5 - On the road again
On the road at 7:00 am after a fantastic couple of nights at Satara Camp. We have seen 4 of the big 5 only a leopard to see, not much chance now I guess. We pass the waterhole where we saw countless elephant yesterday to find not a single animal there only a couple of hippos doing hippo things. Of course we saw many animals on the way but as we were watching one elephant close to the road we were told by a driver of a safari tour vehicle that there was a leopard on a kill between the two exit gates. We found it because as you might imagine there were other vehicles there all trying to see it. We spotted it almost hidden in the grass and waited, it finally stood walked a few paces and sat down again. I was so excited I could not get the camera in focus, some things are just there in the memory banks.
After ticking off the big 5 we sadly leave Kruger National and hit the roads back to Nelspruit, my first experience of driving this rig at over 50 km / h. The van tows so well we had no problems. The first part of the journey was on a highway, then we came to a township called Bush Buck Ridge. I don't know if it was one town or not but it extended for 50 km or so. Mostly a black African area,there were many people walking and there is a taxi service which use small vans with bus type seating. These seem to be exempt from all traffic rules, to stop and go as they please with complete disregard for speed limits and they pass in the most dangerous places. A little traffic hazard one has to get used to.
After a great day we hand back the caravan with a touch of sadness. But our adventure isn’t over as we have arranged to extend our time in South Africa. The Jurgens Sprite Caravan has been great, very well balanced on the road and very comfortable when you are stopped. Very comfy bed and great fittings and accessories.
On our own, well not quite our host Tony at Shandon lodge suggested a drive for us to do for the day. We have extended our stay at the delightful Lodge so a day trip sounds good.
We head back over some ground we covered yesterday, through White River and Hazy View then turned off to Graskop then through the Blyde River Canyon National Reserve with such delights as The Pinnacle, Gods Window, Bourk's Luck Potholes and the Blyde River canyon. There are some water falls but we left these out as there is little to no water in the river systems due to the dry winter. This area is blessed with great views of the Lower Veldt, very interesting gorges worn by ages of water flow and magnificent escarpments. A very scenic area despite the haze this area is notorious for - well worth a visit. We enjoyed the drive so much that we left our turn around a little late, not arriving back at Shandon Lodge until around 7:30. The bonus for this is that we witnessed a beautiful African sunset. Another great day.
Day 7 - Heading South
Left the delightful Shandon Lodge and headed south, the intention is to make it to the coast and Durban tomorrow. We are hoping to find some decent accommodation along the way. Talk about luck out. At the suggestion of Jane at Shandon Lodge we looked up Shayamoya Tiger Fishing and Game Lodge. We rang and booked ahead and arrived to find our lodgings are very rustic. We have a detached bungalow with a thatched roof, a four poster bed with mosquito net all round, a secluded outside shower and a little deck overlooking Lake Jozizi. An owl sitting in a tree next to our lodge and a little bush buck wandering about add to an absolutely magic location.
The drive today was not so exciting, for most of the 350 km journey we travelled through timber plantations as far as the eye could see on either side of the road. There seemed to be a 50:50 split of Australian Eucalypt and pine plantings. We did see one near disaster, a car passing a car passing a truck was forced off the road, fortunately through the dust we saw the car emerge and regain the road. All those almost involved in the disaster stopped and all seemed well as we drove past. Everyone here seems to be a hurry on the road which makes for some very defensive driving.
We also passed through a number of villages and marvel at the very basic housing. They are all small buildings, some concrete brick some mud brick and timber frame with an out-house at the back. The area is very dry and dusty, so any type of garden seems undoable. However everyone looks happy and the school children are all well dressed in uniforms. Scary thing though we passed one sign saying primary school, the sign next to it was a 100 km/hr speed limit, and the children walk home along the highway.
Despite all that another enjoyable day.
Today we intended to get to Durban, however we stopped off a little sea side holiday town of St Lucia and decided to spend the day and night here. The town is tourist and holiday oriented, it looks a bit like Airley Beach, Queensland did 25 years ago except the town is beside and estuary not the sea.
As we drove in we crossed a bridge over the estuary and saw some hippos being very energetic, not very hippo like at all. A youngster seemed to almost jump clear of the water. Unfortunately nowhere to stop so no pictures. After a drive around town we went out to a beach and walked along a board-walk. Warning signs read beware of “crocodiles, hippos and sharks”, “do not swim” and “use board-walk at your own risk”. We saw none of the nasty critters mentioned, had a pleasant conversations with two guys, one was carving wooden animals the other carving designs into the outer shell of a fruit he called a monkey apple. Both were very talented and the wares were very cheap at R30 to R50 that's about $3 to $5 AUD. We opted not to buy because getting untreated items into Australia is just too much of a hassle.
At another beach we saw similar articles for sale only of lesser quality but 3 times the price. There was though, a very clever chap who had made sand models of the big five, elephant, lion, leopard, cape buffalo and rhinoceros, very impressive work.
Back at our accommodating we sat near the pool with a wine and watched another African sunset and then off to the local water ski club for dinner. A great feed at very reasonable prices. However I do wonder about water skiing in these waters, dry starts and don't fall off would be high on the skill criteria I think.
We start heading back towards Jo'burb and Pretoria to meet up at Jurgens for a factory tour later in the week. Straight up the highway is the quickest way but no not us! Our day began with a drive to Cape Vidal through a game reserve to some beaches and lookouts with views over Lake St Lucia, some lovely grass lands and the Indian Ocean. Wild life sited, some hippos, monkeys, zebra, wildebeest and a couple of varieties of antelope. We did see a whale breech but it was far off shore. The drive took us through varied landscapes from thick bush to open grass land. We noted how green it is down close to the coast compared with inland, the trees are getting their spring foliage and the grasses have new shoots showing. In all a pleasant few hours well spent.
Onto the roads once more, we headed south towards Richards Bay then turned off towards Zululand. This proved to be a pleasant drive with somewhat reduced traffic. The terrain varied from craggy peaks, rolling hills to flat plains. Again we saw many local villages and the seemingly ever present school children.
A visit to the tourist information centre in the beautiful little town of Melmot gave us some direction and maps to follow. Notable here were signs, the first “Welcome to Melmot” the next “Zero tolerance of crime” very reassuring. We are lodged tonight in the town of Vryheid. There seemed to be a lot of activity and noise at the local supermarket but we are away from the town centre and it is relatively quiet here.
Today was a transport day to get from Vryheid to Bentley's Country Lodge Pretoria.
We stayed to the country roads as much as possible, passing through such towns as Paulpietersburg, Volksrust, Ernelo and Hendrina. These are all reasonable sized towns and the variety of housing is unbelievable, from what you could only describe as shanty areas with corrugated iron sheds to quite nice single level dwellings and everything in between. The surroundings varied from dirty dusty rubbish strewn areas to very clean and tidy properties.
The black African homes seem to be a number of rectangular structures and one round, usually thatched roof building. The set up, so I am told is cultural. The round dwelling is for the head of the family and the others are built as needed for family. These dwelling also vary immensely from again tin sheds through concrete or mud brick to well presented brick buildings with generally neatly thatched roofs. Some are painted but most are not. However, the obviously more affluent still seem generally stick to the same format. These dwelling may be in clusters in the towns or individual in the middle of seemingly nowhere.
The landscape today gave us a little feel for how big this country might be. Although we only passed through a Day 10 small portion, the expanses of flat areas are vast. Then you drive through hilly areas which are picturesque in their own way, only to open up another vast expanse of cropping or grazing land. There is not much happening with crops at the moment as it is so dry and much of the stock is feeding on last year’s stubble. We saw sheep today for the first time and the usual herds of cattle.
Through the country side we passed a number of private nature reserves and we did see a few antelope of some type in the distance. These properties are fenced with high electric fences, presumably to keep their game on their land.
Not an over exciting day but interesting all the same. We love to get off the beaten track, its gives much more of an idea of the people who occupy this vast and beautiful country.
Received a devastating phone call from home this morning, my brother is in a critical condition in hospital and not expected to last the weekend.
We had arranged for a trip through the Jurgens factory this morning and again we are picked up by Riaan and transported to the factory. Our tour took a couple of hours and we found it very interesting. The operation is not as high tech as I had imagined. The labour force is mainly black African who assemble the caravans by hand. Having said this all of the metal cutting is done by Computer Numerical Control (CNC) laser cutters, the cabinet panels are CNC router cut and the panels are all set up on jigs. The precision and quality control seems excellent to me. No Robots here, but hand assembled is good as long as the human error is kept to a minimum. The systems and training, tool box meetings etc. are first class even if the production techniques are not as sophisticated as I might have imagined.
We thoroughly enjoyed the morning and actually met and got to thank the girls who organised our trip. We also met and had a coffee with the major shareholder of Jurgens Caravans.
Jurgens Caravans have about 90% of the caravan, camper trailer and trailer sales in South Africa, They have an amazing range and I like their design philosophy of design outside cooking and living.
Riaan transferred us back to pick up our car. As we were feeling a bit flat with our news from home we headed straight for our hotel in Jo'burg and had a quiet afternoon and evening.
Not a great start to the day. Messages from home confirm that my brother passed away overnight then to top it of my sister in law, other brothers wife, who has been unwell for some time passed away a few hours later. We console each other, shed a few tears and phone home to talk with loved ones.
We have arranged a guided tour for today firstly to Jo'burg city centre then to the Nelson Mandela Museum and Soweto.
After being picked up by Charles our black African driver and guide we travelled towards the old city centre of Johannesburg, the most dangerous city in the world. So rife with crime in fact that most of the buildings are empty. The government offices as well as most other company offices have moved to safer locations. We stop at the Carlton Centre, a 50 floor tower referred to as the roof of Africa as it is the tallest building on the African continent. The lower level has a shopping mall with various shopping outlets. We take the elevator up to the top to view the city. The haze limited the view but we could see that many of the surrounding buildings have been taken over by squatters, clothes lines on the roof being the main give away. We saw the rail corridor which was the official boundary between black and white Johannesburg.
The next stop was the Mandela museum which tells the story of Nelson Mandela, the Apartheid laws and the battle to end the era. This is a very large museum, too complex to describe in detail. Suffice to say, unimaginable hardship, anger, sorrow and sacrifice. The pillars of the African constitution are spelled out on concrete pillars at the entrance to the museum. Democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom.
Next onto Soweto a home to 5 million black Africans and the centre of the battle against Apartheid. A tour of a shanty town was not high on our agenda but we did it and found the people very friendly and our guide very knowledgeable. The people were, despite the dusty environment, dressed in spotless clothing and were all well presented. We were invited into one dwelling and found it clean and tidy, it had a double bed, kerosene stove, candles for lighting and a small table with a few canisters of food.
Then we drove up Vilakazi Street, past the home of Desmond Tutu which is still occupied by his family, then onto Nelson Mandela's home at number 8115. That is 2 Nobel Prize winners from one street in Soweto only a few hundred metres apart.
The next highlight or more correctly lowlight was a visit to a memorial for school children shot in a protest against the introduction of Afrikaans as the official educational language. This was an attempt by the apartheid regime to exclude black Africans from education as most did not speak the language. The official number killed is 176, some estimates are as high as 700.
This was a full day, so much sadness, history and hope for the future of South African Society and our guide Charles was very informative and knowledgeable.
Today we take the hire car for the last trip to Aha Lesedi Cultural Village a tourist cultural village some 40 km from our hotel. After almost being run off the road by one of those mad, impatient drivers we arrived to be met by a group of traditionally clad natives singing and chanting a welcome for us. Following a history lesson and a short information movie we went around the villages. These are examples of how the many different tribes set out and build their villages with consideration given to comfort and safety of the people and their herds of cattle. I had a taste of some food, evidently a tree worm of some type, it looked somewhat like a witchetty grub but tasted quite reasonable. Some traditional, very energetic and colourful dancing was the finale to an interesting couple of hours.
A pleasant drive back to drop the car off and a ½ Km walk back to the hotel.
Day 14 - Thank You Jurgens
This is our last day in South Africa. Riaan as always is there to look after us and take us to the airport.
Pauline and I have had a wonderful time. The magnificent scenery, the people so friendly and helpful and the wildlife just absolutely amazing Thank you to Jurgens Australia and South Africa for the never to be forgotten experience.
Thanks also to Kate and Alan from A and K Caravans in Hobart Tasmania, we are inspired to make more use of our Jurgens when we get home.
And last but by no means least a very big thank you Deon Harmse for setting up our supplies and starting us off on the right track and a special thank you to Riaan Moree for his time, conversation on our journey from Jo'burge and all his effort in making our experience so special. What a great bloke.