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
Someone who is expecting much from Botswana’s landscapes might be a little bit disappointed. Apart from the fascinating Okavango Delta with its beautiful islands, rivers, swamps and lakes Botswana mainly is covered by plain shrubland with no hills or mountains. But if you are interested in wild life and fauna you will be thrilled.
When we went to Okavango Delta some weeks before we were lucky to watch the amazing wild life and predators at close range. We still go into rhapsodies about it. Now at Khwai River, in the north-east of the delta, it is totally different but at least just as exciting.
During the day we park our truck next to the sunny riverbank. Some monkeys and a variety of pretty birds romp about. We enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and we bury ourselves in books. Right in front of us a group of hippos is having a bath. The podgy quadrupeds dive up and down, puff and blow water now and then and munch the lush reed grass.
Step by step elephants appear behind, near and in front of us. Sometimes it’s a single bull, sometimes a smaller group. The gentle giants approach slowly, focussed, continually eating and almost noiselessly. They watch us, many an elephant hesitates for a moment. Now and then an elephant keeps a close eye on us and comes a step closer. He wants to make sure that we don’t bother him. That suits us fine, it’s exactly the same we expect from him.
Again and again these awesome creatures dip their long trunks into the river and pour plenty of water into their maw. 100 up to 150 liters of water an elephant drinks per day and he eats about 200 to 300 kilograms green stuff. That’s a lot! From grass, roots, fruits and seed capsules to shrubs, leaves and branches everything goes. Sometimes we can hear loud cracks from the bush when again an elephant cuts down a whole tree to get to the leaves.
The same sedate way the gentle giants approach, the same way they leave again. We don’t know where they go to. If they will come 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!“
After all he trots past our truck, takes a look at me as I lean out of the door on the opposite side and both elephants disappear silently in the bush.
Win and I remain marveling. We have elephants in our front yard as other people have moles – isn’t it pretty 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 – consisting of the western Ntwetwe Pan and the eastern Sowa Pan – are the estate of a huge inland lake dried up thousands of years ago.
The salty crust that gives the ground a white glimmer is sodium carbonate. After heavy rain it happens to be a flat sea for a short while attracting flamingos, pelicans and storchs. If it has dried up again they move on.
We also move on to South Africa and leave Botswana south at the border station Sikwane – Derdepoort near the capital Gaborone.
Sala Sentle, good bye, friendly country. We’ll come back!
TWO OF THE BIG FIVE
Since mid of June we’re back in South Africa, in the northernmost province Limpopo. We visit Marakele National Park, which is home to the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, rhino) and famous for its big population of rhinos. Straight across from where we camp we can watch a rhino mum and her young one at the waterhole. An ostrich strides along our truck with dignity and right in front of us warthogs dig for food. Isn’t that fantastic?
On our game drives on two late afternoons we meet some elephants and lots of rhinos. But there’s no trace of leopards, lions and buffalos. We cruise around the park uphill and downhill and are happy about having proper mountains in front of us.
VISITING THE FAIRIES
It is winter school holidays in South Africa at the moment. That’s why we change our route and postpone our visit of Kruger National Park which is very popular during that time and shows „fully booked“ for all camps. Instead we enjoy to meet farmer Christo and his Taaibos Farm not far from Vaalwater at the foot of the Waterberg.
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 cows likes our camp fire that much that she stays with us for a while and squints against the blazing flames dreamily like we do.
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
And again we alter our plans and route due to unexpected events. In the small village of Vaalwater we stop at the butchery to get some filets for our braai. It takes us quick five minutes to succeed. Meanwhile somebody takes the opportunity to try to crack the door lock of our passenger door. Prior we’re back at our truck the crook has disappeared.
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.
The night we camp at the MAN areal highly protected by some friendly security guards before we head to Drakensberg the next morning.
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!