Saturday, July 7, 2018 | South Africa – KwaZulu-Natal, Salt Rock | Petra
SALA SENTLE BOTSWANA
ON OUR WAY TO SOUTH AFRICA
We like Botswana very much not only because of its marvelous fauna. The people, called Batswana, are very friendly and they love to smile. Before heading to South Africa and leaving the likeable country in June, after spending four weeks here, we treat ourselves with a trip to Khwai River and to Lekhubu Island. In Limpopo, the northernmost province of South Africa, we get to see mountains for the first time. It’s a nice view after weeks of plain shrubland.
GREY GIANTS IN OUR FRONT YARD
Those who want to explore Botswana for its scenery might be disappointed. Apart from the fascinating Okavango Delta with its beautiful islands, channels, swamps and lakes, Botswana is mostly flat bushveld with no hills or mountains to speak of. However, those who want to experience close proximity to wild animals will surely be thrilled.
On our trip to the Okavango Delta, we were able to see the breathtaking wildlife and predators up close. Therefore, we always get into raptures. Now here at the Khwai River, northeast of the Okavango Delta, it is completely different and yet at least as exciting.
With our truck, we stand comfortably in the sun on the riverbank during the day. A few monkeys and various birds cavort around us. We enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and browse through our books. In front of us a whole group of hippos is bathing. The pudgy quadrupeds dive up and down, occasionally snorting water into the air and vigorously smacking the juicy reed grass.
Little by little elephants appear behind, beside and in front of us. Sometimes it is a bull alone, sometimes a small group. The gentle colossi approach the riverbank slowly, feeding continuously, purposefully and almost silently. They see us standing there, some of them hesitate for a moment. Now and then an elephant takes a closer look at us. Comes a step or two closer to us. He wants to make sure that we leave him alone. That suits us fine, it’s exactly the same we expect from him.
Over and over again, these impressive creatures on the riverbank dip their long trunks into the cool water and pour copious amounts of water down their throats. An elephant drinks 100 to 150 liters of liquid a day and eats about 200 to 300 kilograms of greenery. That’s a lot! From tufts of grass, roots, fruits and seed pods to shrubs and leaves to whole branches, it eats everything. Occasionally, we hear a big crash in the bush, always when an elephant rivets a whole tree to get to its leaves.
As leisurely as the gentle giants come, they also leave. We don’t know where to. Will they be back tomorrow?
At night we camp in the bush under tall trees and strain our ears while sitting at the camp fire listening into the starry dark night. Do your hear it? What is it? Can you see the eyes there? Is it wildcats? Jackals? Or even lions?! That’s quite exciting and we move closer to the fire – just for the fun of it.
At breakfast the next morning we are more than awake. Two elephants step from the bush straight to our truck. They obviously are on their way down to the river and they wonder about our strange house in evidence. Either of them watches through our window. We have the weird feeling that he definitely knows what’s going on: „You are in there, I can see you! Big brother is watching you!“
Finally, he trots past our truck, glances once more at me as I lean out the door on the other side, then both elephants disappear silently into the bush.
Win and I are left in awe. We have elephants in our front yard as other people have moles – somehow we think it’s really cool. Wow!
THE BEAUTY OF NOTHING
There is a scenic treat in Botswana that we don’t want to miss. We head to Lekhubu Island (Kubu Island) in the Central District of the country.
We follow a sandy dirt road from the small village Mmatshumo to Lekhubu Island along bushes and grassland crossing a white ocean consisting of a salty up to five metres deep crust. During rain season after heavy rain the tracks of the pan are impassable and Lekhubu Island remains closed. It also isn’t advisable to drive off the track at any time. Some vehicles got bogged down hopelessly in the ground of the pan when leaving the official tracks.
Lekhubu Island indeed sticks out about 20 metres from the dry white ground of Sowa Pan, the eastern part of Makgadikadi Pans.
At first glance Sowa Pan is a lot of nothing. But on second sight and with the changing day light, with sunrise and sunset or in the moonlight Lekhubu Island is given complete expression to the beauty of the bizarre white landscape and the solitary island.
Massive Baobab trees grow between the rocks and long for the sky. Ancient stone walls are indicative for the island to be occupied by inhabitants 500 to 1500 years ago.
Here you can get the total silence. Now and then it is interrupted by a bird’s tweet or the buzzing of wild bees only. During the dry season there are only a view animals around due to no water. Even visitors have to bring along everything they need. Apart from pure nature and a reception for the 14 rural almost not recognisable campsites you can’t get anything on this island. Nothing, zero, nada.
The Makgadikadi Pans – comprising the western Ntwetwe Pan and the eastern Sowa Pan – are the legacy of a huge inland lake that dried up thousands of years ago. The salt-like coating that makes the soil shimmer white is sodium carbonate. After sufficient rainfall, it happens that even today a shallow lake forms for a short time, where flamingos, pelicans and storks feel at home. When it has dried up again, they move on.
We too move on and leave Botswana in the south near its capital Gaborone at the Sikwane – Derdepoort border crossing into South Africa.
Sala Sentle, goodbye, you friendly country! We will be back.
TWO OF THE BIG FIVE
Since mid-June we are now back in South Africa, this time in the northernmost province, Limpopo. We visit the Marakele National Park, which is home to the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, rhino) and is especially known for its large population of rhinos.
The peaceful tranquility of the park and the more or less wild animals are pure enjoyment for us. Directly from our camp we can observe a mother rhino and her young at the waterhole. An ostrich strides gracefully around our truck and right in front of our nose warthogs are digging in the earth. Isn’t that wonderful?!
On our game drives on two late afternoons we actually meet elephants and several rhinos. Leopards, lions and buffalos are missing. We cruise uphill and downhill in the park and enjoy finally having proper mountains in front of us again.
VISITING THE FAIRIES
Right now the schools in South Africa have winter vacations. Therefore, we change our tour plan and postpone our visit to the Kruger National Park, which is very busy during the vacation season and reports “fully booked” for all camps. So we have the pleasure to meet farmer Christo and his Taaibos Farm at the foot of the Waterberg not far from Vaalwater.
On Christo’s farm we camp under tall trees on a little river with a natural pool for days alone. Merely some cows come across to visit us. One of the beautiful animals likes it so much at our evening campfire that it stays with us for quite a while and, like us, blinks dreamily into the blazing flames.
Adventurous Christo takes us for a hike on his very, very extending and idyllic farm. He wants to show us old bushman paintings and a new hiking trail his workers are building at the moment. We walk on narrow trails uphill and downhill and climb along cliffs.
At the top of a plateau we learn about the real dimensions of his property. And we understand that Christo is a real whizz-kid. He bubbles over with ideas and still has a lot of exciting plans for his farm. On our way back to our truck we come across a small waterfall with an enchanting pool. „This is fairyland“, Christo explains. This is the place where his sister used to play with the fairys when she was a little girl. Even for us there are no doubts, this is fairyland. We clearly feel the delicate beauty and magical charm of this place. Here and there you can see some fairy dust sparkling in the late sunlight. Bling, bling!
FIVE MINUTES ONLY
Luckily the breaking wasn’t successful and the door still is firmly closed. But the lock is demaged and we want to get it replaced as soon as possible. Therefore we take the path to Pretoria and the next MAN service station. It’s weekend now and we can take our time. Monday morning on our way to MAN we wonder about many cars criss-cross along the roadside and at the access to the industrial park. Huge rocks are scattered over the road, a big fire burns in the middle, police is around and many other people, too.
All right, they are on strike. There is no getting through neither to the ground nor to the workshop. What next? Waiting? Moving on and coming back tomorrow?
Just at that moment Joevan is heading for us across the road. He exactly is our man as I easily can see from the big MAN logo on his jacket. He also is waiting from seven this morning and can’t get to his workshop he tells us. Due to the fact that no one knows when they will open the areal Joevan advises to drive some kilometres to MAN in Centurion for getting the lock changed. He gives his colleague C. J. a call and so we get our lock replaced the same day.
We spend the night quietly and well protected by a lot of security on the MAN premises, before we drive on to the Drakensberg the next day.
Last year in November was the first time we visited Royal Natal National Park at the Drakensberg. It was summer then and actually far to hot for long hikes in that beautiful scenery. Now it’s winter time in the southern hemisphere. Nights are freezing cold but during the day we are happy about warm sun and pleasant 24 degrees. It’s perfect for a long hike to Thukela Gorge. Let’s go!
The diverse trail runs past sunny fields with tall golden grass, through shady forests and among round rocks in the Thukela River. On every occasion we stop and absorb the breathtaking view of the Amphitheatre which is five kilometres wide and one of the most impressive cliff faces in the world. The crystal clear water of Thukela River begs for a bath in one of its many natural pools. But we can’t imagine to dive into the freezing cold water and skip it.
Heavy winds come up our last evening at the Royal Natal National Park, and even snow is announced for the next few days. A good reason to move further towards the coast. Let’s see how wintry it is in Salt Rock. There we want to meet Monika and Thomas, whom we met las May in Namibia on the Kunene River at the Epupa Falls. They live in Johannesburg and will spend a few days vacationing in Salt Rock. We look forward to seeing you again.
ENCOUNTER WITH MANDELA
We spend three easy days on our route to the North Coast. It leads over the smooth hills of the Midlands, a beautiful rural region in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. We feel as if we have landed in the German Allgäu.
On the serpentine country road from Nottingham Road to Horwick we stop at a historic site. We meet Nelson Mandela or more precisely his life story. At this place of the R 103 Nelson Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962 right from a car and put behind bars for 27 years for fighting against South Africa’s apartheid policy.
At the exhibition at the Nelson Mandela capture site we delve into the turbulent history of this prominent man.
After that we spend a relaxing day at Midmar Dam, a big dam with some sailing boats, where we enjoy reading in the sun. It’s nice here and it’s cold especially at night. But the day after tomorrow we’ll be at the Indian Ocean and it’s supposed to be warmer there.
SUNSHINE AND BEACH
Salt Rock satisfies our expectations and welcomes us with sunshine and feelgood temperature, at least until the next day. We enjoy a picturesque sunrise, a calm ocean and a group of dolphins following the shoals of sardines. But all of a sudden it gets grey and dark and moments later it pours down. Well, even this won’t last forever!